Dangers of being a Christian in rural India

excerpted from a Compass News article:

Persecution affects both rural and urban populations, but Christians living in villages suffer more due to the practice of sharing common facilities and the presence of hierarchical religious and caste communities within the isolated settlements.

Most of India’s Christians live in rural areas. According to India’s 2001 Census, Christians make up 2.3 percent of the 1 billion-plus population, or 24 million people. Of these, almost 16 million live in rural areas. Most of the rural Christians are Dalits (the lowest level of the Hindu caste system, formerly known as “untouchables”), or from tribal backgrounds.

In addition to violent attacks launched and incited by Hindu extremists, rural Christians face denial of the use of common facilities like ponds, wells, grazing ground for cattle, schools and cremation grounds. At times they are also treated as social outcasts because of their faith in Christ. Villagers sometimes rape Christian women as a means of intimidation, but because of the shame associated with rape, few of these incidents are reported.

Villages in India are governed by village headmen, or mukhiyas, who preside over village courts known as panchayats. The panchayats are locally elected bodies supported by the Indian government and generally consist of “high caste” men.

As an unwritten code of conduct, villagers are expected to approach panchayats rather than the police or a court of law to resolve disputes or report criminal acts. When Christians approach such a body, they do not get justice due to their relatively lower economic and social status.

In fact, panchayats often pressure families that convert to forsake Christianity. If they refuse to do so, Hindu villagers ostracize and sometimes forcibly expel them from the village.

Most Indian villages choose collective deities from the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses and see these deities as their protectors. They fear disaster if the village fails to worship them adequately. When a Christian family abstains from these rituals, fellow villagers grow hostile, fearing the anger of the gods may fall on the village as a whole.

Villagers also gather together for Hindu festivals such as Holi (during which people play water games and consume home-brewed alcohol) and Diwali (celebrated with lights and firecrackers and worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of money). The village as a whole is offended when Christians do not participate in these festivals.

Social alienation also affects the economic condition of Christian families. Rural villages have limited resources and are often self-sufficient. Villagers depend on each other for assistance in raising and harvesting crops or taking care of livestock; without this help, families struggle to survive financially.

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