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10 things you need to know about the Indian elections (slegs in Engels beskikbaar)

On 19 April 2024, the elections in India began. The voting process is an enormous undertaking, as it is by far the largest democratic election in the world.

And yet this election also has significant implications for Christians, who are a minority group in India. For the last decade, Christians have come under increased pressure due to a rise in Hindu nationalism that has, in turn, meant an increase in attacks on converts from Hinduism. There was also a sharp rise in suspicion against religious minorities for not being “truly Indian” and in false accusations of forced conversion.

As the huge vote for India’s lower house of parliament began, here are ten things you need to know about the Indian election, how it will impact Christians and how you can pray:

1. It’s huge.
The 2024 election is set to be the largest democratic election in human history, with 960 million eligible voters. This is almost 10% of the global population. In 2019, the last time there was a national election, nearly 615 million people cast a ballot.

2. India has a parliamentary system.
India’s government is similar to the United Kingdom’s government, as the elections will determine who will sit in the lower house of parliament, called the Lok Sabha or House of the People in India. There are 543 seats, and a Prime Minister is elected from the people who win these seats.

3. The election takes a long time.
Because so many people vote and India is such a huge country, the election itself takes nearly six weeks, lasting from 19 April to 1 June. Additionally, India’s election laws are designed to make voting as feasible as possible, no matter where a person lives.

The Election Commission of India is required to ensure that a voting station is available within 2km (1,2 miles) of every voter. This means even if someone lives in a remote village in the Himalayas, election workers will carry a voting machine to a nearby location.

4. The primary opponents in this year’s race are the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the India National Congress (INC) parties.These two political parties (and their coalition partners) are the primary political groups that people will decide between. The BJP has had two straight elections of significant success, which means that Narendra Modi has been the Prime Minister since 2014. Broadly speaking, the INC is a centrist/centre-left political party and the BJP is a right-wing party with roots in Hindu nationalism.

5. The elections have significant consequences for Christians.
Because the ruling party in India has significant ties to Hindutva, the ideology that says Indian identity is tied to Hinduism, another victory in this year’s election can lead to continued difficulties for India’s religious minorities, including Christians.

“These elections are very crucial, as it will determine what will happen during the next five years,” says Priya Sharma*, an Open Doors partner in India. “If the current government stays in power, there are chances that India will undergo a complete transformation into a Hindu nationalist state. India will be intolerant to Christians and other religious minorities.”

6. The elections could continue a dangerous trend.
Since 2014, India has moved up from number 28 to number 11 on the Open Doors World Watch List. This shows the extent to which India has squeezed its Christian minority.

“In the past ten years, Hindu extremists have openly threatened to eliminate Christianity and other minority religions in India,” Sharma says. “There have been open statements of hatred and threats against Christians. Pastors, leaders and lay Christians have been killed and attacked brutally in broad daylight and the accused are allowed to go free, without any punishment.”

7. One of the most significant issues for Christians is the rise of anti-conversion laws.
Anti-conversion laws are theoretically in place in 11 of 28 Indian states to ban forced conversion from one religion to another. But in reality they have created an environment where conversion to a minority religion is dangerous, if not impossible. “Anti-conversion laws were introduced to stop forced conversion,” Sharma says. “Under Indian law, citizens are free to choose their religion.

“The law intended to ban conversion by force and/or offering incentives to change faiths. However, Hindu extremist groups misuse the law. They falsely accuse pastors of offering incentives to people to convert to Christianity or say that church leaders force innocent people to become followers of Jesus. Those extremists lodge false complaints at the police station, getting pastors arrested, enmeshed in legal battles and even sent to prison.”

8. There are fears that a win by the ruling party could lead to a national anti-conversion law.
“Anti-conversion laws already existed in six states before the BJP came into power in the national government, but since they formed their government, anti-conversion laws or bills have been imposed in five more states,” Sharma says.

“There have even been several attempts to pass a national anti-conversion law. If the BJP wins the 2024 elections, there is a big chance of an anti-conversion law being introduced at national level.”

9. A national anti-conversion law could have devastating consequences for Christians in India.
These laws are often used to attack converts from Hinduism and any pastors who are seen as evangelising to Hindus. In 2023, Open Doors partners reported that more than 2 300 pastors, leaders and believers were falsely accused, arrested and/or detained for forceful conversion. If a national law passes, this could make things even more dangerous.

“If the anti-conversion law is introduced at national level, it will create huge turbulence for the Christian community,” Sharma says. “More Christians could be tortured, attacked, killed and forcefully reconverted back to Hinduism.”

10. Christians are not in despair—but are asking God for help.
Sharma says that the church in India is growing, despite the persecution. And he is encouraged by growing unity among believers. “Most Christians only want to vote for a good government. Believers are arranging prayer chains, fasting and hosting prayer meetings for a moral, ethical and righteous government to come into power.”

Pray with India as their elections are underway:
· Pray for a safe and just government.
· Pray for honest and wise leaders to come into power.
· Pray for a fair and just election process to take place.
· Pray that the elected government would create a safe harbour for Christians and other religious minorities, and that there would be freedom to choose one’s religion and place of worship.

Stand with believers in India today in prayer. Click here.

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