The Christian community in India is relatively small, yet its contribution to civil society has been substantial, at least from the perspective of those who consider Western secular, democratic forms of governance ideal. At the same time, however, the influence of this small community provokes anxiety among the guardians of “traditional” Indian society. For them, the Christian community represents a threat to essentially Indian social structures and cultural norms, and a potential fifth column within the Indian nation (because of Indian Christians’ putative “foreign” loyalties and alliances with Western Christians). These anxieties have given rise to attempts to circumscribe Christian freedoms (particularly the freedom to evangelize), political and legal harassment, and even acts of violence.
This chapter explores these issues in four parts. The first provides contextual demographic data on the Indian Christian community, as well as a history of the development of tensions between India's Christians and Hindus. In the second part we look closely at the sources and severity of the social, legal, political, and violent pressures felt by the contemporary Indian Christian community. The third section focuses on the effects of these pressures on Indian Christian life and practice, and on Indian social and political life more generally. Finally, the last section provides a catalog of Christian contributions to Indian civil society, particularly in the form of projects and institutions involved in education, medicine, poverty amelioration, and human rights activism.
The structure of the chapter is not intended to read as a warning about what might be lost if the Christian community continues to be subjected to pressure. It is certainly true that the challenges faced by the contemporary Indian Christian community do present the possibility that their contributions to civil society could be lost or limited in substantial ways. Even so, a simple warning such as this would be inappropriate for at least two reasons. First, for the sake of balance, we must proceed without assuming in an a priori fashion that Christian contributions to Indian society have been useful or positive from all perspectives. There is indeed, as we discuss later, a robust public debate about that very issue in India today. Second, it would be inaccurate to assume that the pressures experienced by Christians in contemporary India have led them to withdraw from the public sphere.