Central and Northern India
India borders Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, China, Nepal and Pakistan. Due to its land mass and geographical location in the heart of the 10/40 Window, India is of key significance when we think about answering the call to “Go and make disciples of all nations… .” (Matthew 28:19)
India is situated in southern Asia, bordering the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
With one-sixth of the world residing there, India is one of the most populous nations in world. Nearly 1.2 billion people are crammed into a space one-third the size of the U.S. Within this population 2,533 separate people groups are represented.
Out of these, 2,233 have never been exposed to the Gospel. Christians are by far the minority, constituting only 2.3% of the total population. Most Indians are Hindu, worshipping 330 million different gods.
Persecution is common for Indian Christians. Socially, the ancient Hindu caste system is still practiced throughout India. Under this system, people are assigned to a rank in a hierarchy of classes. Christians are at the bottom, limiting their access to education, work and even basic human rights. Often, due to religiously fanatic rebel groups, Christians are forced to renounce their religion in order to keep their homes and businesses and even their lives.
As an example, in August 2008, Hindu extremists reacted violently to the murder of one of their leaders, leaving 110 Christians dead, at least 170 churches and 4,500 homes destroyed, and over 54,000 people displaced. The arrests, physical beatings and church attacks across India were innumerable. Since then, this anti-Christian violence has persisted, leaving hundreds of Christians ostracized and abused. DIBA graduates Christian evangelists who are committed to serving God through spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to India’s growing population, in spite of the persecution they will face in the field.
Bhutan has a population of 700,000; of these, 75% are Buddhist, 23% are Hindu and only 2% are Christian as well as other tribal religions. There are 6,000 Christians, mostly of Nepali decent. By the grace of God, the Bible has been translated into Bhutan’s national language, Dzongkha, as well as into Nepali. The preservation of Bhutanese culture and religion is of high priority to its government and people.
Because of this, Bhutan has resisted globalization
and is characterized by paranoia in opening their country to the rest of the world – believing that by doing so, it would dilute their heritage. Thus, outsiders were not allowed in Bhutan until the 1970s. Even now, travelers are discouraged from coming alone and are advised to follow a strict travel itinerary. Television was not brought into the country until 1999. The strict preservation of their culture has made them one of the least evangelized countries in the world.
The Bhutanese Constitution reads, “Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan.”The government is prioritizing the preservation of this heritage over tolerance and compassion for other religions. According to the Home and Culture Minister, Lyonpo Minjur Dorji, Bhutan cannot survive “riots and unrest” because they are situated between “two giants [India and China].” Country leaders believe that their distinct culture and religion, not their military, has protected their sovereignty. The Buddhist Bhutanese see any other religion as a threat to their independence. They have watched Tibet become a state in China and Sikkim a state in India. They ask themselves, “now which of these two countries will get Bhutan?”
In the 1980s, Bhutan’s king imposed a campaign to protect its sovereignty and maintain their cultural integrity. The king implemented the notion of “pure Buddhism” believing it would protect their nation’s sovereignty. Over 100,000 noncompliant citizens, many Christians, were either expelled or displaced into Nepal. In 2010, a Buddhist in the Bhutan Parliament proposed an amendment to the Constitution making conversion to any other faith illegal. Christians fear that under this law, vigilantes could arrest them for obeying Christ’s commandment to clothe, feed and love the poor. If this amendment is passed, the “crime” of proselytizing Christianity would be punishable by at least one year in prison.
The first-ever parliamentary elections in Bhutan were held in 2008 and a new king was crowned. For the first time, a new constitution guaranteeing more religious liberty was implemented. However, according to the Bhutan government, Christianity does not officially exist. Aside from government, persecution of Christians comes mainly from the family, the community and Buddhist monks, who have significant influence. Believers meet in secret; they face discrimination in education and employment. Even building churches is banned. Due to this extreme intolerance, 6,000 Bhutanese Christians must whisper their worship heavenward and lift their eyes to the mountains from where their help will come. (Psalm 121:1)
Bangladesh has a population of 159 million; of this number, 0.6% are Christian. Persecution is a danger for the people of Bangladesh as well. Since 2008, reports of believers being arrested, beaten and discriminated against have become more prevalent. Pastors’ relatives, in particular, are easy targets for abuse – persecutors striking fear in hopes that they will relent of their preaching.
Bangladesh is a Muslim country which has become extremely intolerant to any religion other than Islam, especially Christianity. The government is a parliamentary democracy with strong Islamic roots.
According to an article published in December 2010, Christians were not able to celebrate Christmas.
Members of The United People’s Demographic Front (UPDF) threatened Christians from entering seven churches Christmas week. UPDF members said “You cannot play the harmonium, drums and sing here. You cannot even worship silently.”
Often, if Christians do not recant their faith, beatings and other violent acts are to be expected regularly. For Christians, some of the worst punishment is in the form of public defilement. Neighbors, clients, friends and even family often shun and abuse those who claim Christianity.
Nepal, a country the size of Arkansas, is situated on the northeast border of India. Nepal has a population of nearly 29 million. Most of these people live on less than a dollar a day. Because of extreme poverty, disease and malnutrition are extremely prevalent. Therefore, simply surviving becomes the highest necessity, trumping education – only 48% of the population is literate. The Bible has been translated into the national language but due to the high rate of illiteracy, there is a great need for evangelists who can teach. Nepal is a primarily Hindu nation, but claims Buddhism as their second religion. Christians constitute less than 1% of the overall population.
Because the government has been established on Hindu laws and practices, all threats to its sovereignty are not tolerated. Rebel Maoists groups waged a decade long campaign in the late 1990s against the monarchy, resulting in 12,000 deaths and 100,000 displaced people. Due to the uproar, Nepal ended their 239-year-old monarchy in 2008. Maoists took office soon thereafter but were eventually ousted by popular rule. Still, there are frequent outbreaks of violence from Maoists rebel groups who oppose the republic. Today, the Nepalese government wants to keep the number of Christians to a minimum so that they can maintain their identity as the only Hindu kingdom in the world. As in Bhutan and Tibet, cultural purity is thought to be best maintained through religious unity. Church leaders and their congregations are often targets for severe Darjeeling persecution – some have even been bombed. The Nepal Defense Army admittedly accounts for a vast percentage of these attacks. Because of the govern- ment support of religious persecution, Christians have little defense.