Why would India block foreign donations to help poor children? The answer is Hindutva.
On January 13th, Compassion International told the sponsors of 130,000 Indian children that, barring an unlikely turn of events, it would cease operations in India in mid-March.
The announcement came a year after the Indian government told the organization that “it could no longer receive funding from outside the subcontinent.”
While the news dismayed Compassion’s donors, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to those familiar with the deteriorating state of religious freedom in India.
Compassion’s announcement comes shortly after Open Doors International released its “World Watchlist,” which ranked the worst countries in which to be a Christian.
North Korea, of course, ranked first again. The next twelve countries are either overwhelmingly Muslim or, like Nigeria, are suffering from an Islamist insurgency—in this case, Boko Haram—that targets Christians.
Then at #15, just behind Saudi Arabia, is India. Why? India is neither Islamic nor a repressive dictatorship like North Korea or China.
David Curry, the CEO of Open Doors, told Morgan Lee and Mark Galli of Christianity Today that the situation in India reflects the rise of what he calls “ethnic nationalism,” in which what it means to be an Indian is defined in religious—in this case, Hindu—terms. An Indian who is a Christian or, for that matter, a Muslim, is regarded as less than truly Indian, because Hinduism is at the heart of what it means to be an Indian.
This ideology goes by the name “Hindutva,” which literally means “Hinduness.” It’s an ideology that belies the western image of India as a land of Gandhi, gurus, and nonviolence. There’s nothing peaceful or tolerant about Hindutva. On the contrary, the man who assassinated Gandhi was an adherent of Hindutva and felt that Gandhi had betrayed the Hindu community.
The current ruling party in India, the BJP, is ideologically committed to the idea of Hindutva. As Vice News put it, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in addition to being implicated in the 2002 massacre of 2,000 Muslims while governor of Gujarat, has also been “accused of promoting India's majority religion of Hinduism to the detriment of Christianity, Islam, and other faiths.”
The ruling party’s commitment to Hindu supremacy is perhaps best reflected in the various laws prohibiting religion conversion that I told you about on BreakPoint a year ago. Six Indian states have enacted laws in the past several years that effectively ban conversions from Hinduism to Christianity or to Islam.
This is the political and cultural context in which Compassion’s decision must be seen. The Indian government knows that the money coming from outside of India is highly unlikely to be replaced by donations from within India.
It also knows that it can use all the help it can get: 44 percent of Indian children under five are underweight and 72 percent of its infants suffer from anemia.
So why block Compassion International? Because nationalism in the form of Hindutva trumps helping malnourished children.
What can we do about it? The good news is that, unlike North Korea or Somalia, we do have some political leverage. India wants to increase its annual trade with the USA five-fold “over the near term.” Christians should let the Trump administration know that such increases must be accompanied by a greater respect for religious freedom on the subcontinent.
And of course we should pray. Curry told Christianity Today that he would feel “much better” if he felt that the “American church” was “at least praying” for persecuted believers.
At least, indeed.
Eric Metaxas is the host of the “Eric Metaxas Show,” a co-host of “BreakPoint” radio and a New York Times #1 best-selling author whose works have been translated into more than twenty languages.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.