Christians Say India’s New President Has ‘No Room’ for Them

Image: Terapanth / Wikimedia
Church leaders believe Hindu nationalism will outweigh the Dalit leader’s lower-caste loyalties.

Ram Nath Kovind, India’s new president who took office today, represents an unusual case of a little-known politician from the country’s lowest caste, the Dalits, rising to power.

However, as others champion his victory, India’s Christian minority—the majority of whom are Dalits themselves—know that a Hindu nationalist politician from the Dalit caste is still a Hindu nationalist politician.

Like the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that nominated him, Kovind represents a continued threat to non-Hindus in India, including its estimated 25 million to 60 million Christians. (As CT has noted, that’s a tiny minority amid 1 billion Hindus, but still sizable enough to rank among the 25 countries with the most Christians, surpassing “Christian countries” such as Uganda and Greece.)

If Indian officials were to move forward with anti-conversion legislation or other policies directed at Christians, “he would be a good rubber stamp for the government,” said Sandeep Kumar, a church planter and principal of Mission India Bible College, in an interview with CT. “There is no room for Christians in his understanding.”

Since 2014, India has been led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a BJP leader notorious among Christians for permitting religious freedom violations to spread unchecked. Meanwhile, the position of president is mostly ceremonial and selected by lawmakers.

Kovind’s election this month indicates that the BJP is gaining support among Dalits (once called “untouchables”) with its polarizing vision of India as a nation whose religion, language, and culture is solely Hindu, an ideology known as Hindutva that originated among the higher castes.

When he was a party leader back in 2010, Kovind had remarked that “Islam and Christianity are alien to India” and said that they do not deserve the benefits and quotas assured to others from lowest castes, officially designated as “Scheduled Castes.”

India’s constitution has extended scheduled caste benefits to Buddhists and Sikhs, but not to any other religious minorities, officially leaving Dalit Muslims and Christians out. Most estimates suggest that at least half of India’s Christians are Dalits.

Z. Devasagaya Raj, a priest who oversees Catholic outreach to Dalits, said “the idea of appointing a Dalit person for the coveted post is largely positive but not if ‘the person holds a [pro-Hindu] right-wing ideology,’” according to a UCA News report. Though Modi endorsed Kovind as a representative for the poor and oppressed, Christians have reason to believe that won’t include them.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Kate Shellnutt