Narendra Modi, the leader of a Hindu nationalist party, is likely to become India’s next prime minister. So says a recent issue of Christianity Today. This Hindu nationalist party has been charged with fomenting violence against non-Hindu minorities in parts of India and with passing laws against conversion. Such laws are not directed, of course, against any conversion to Hinduism, but rather against any Hindu conversion to Islam or Christianity.
Apparently Christianity is growing in India, though it is still less than 3 percent of that country’s 1.27 billion population. The feeling among many Hindus seems to be that India is and should remain a Hindu country, the way many Americans seem to feel the United States should remain a Christian country. And so India’s Hindu majority seems fearful and even threatened, though India’s constitution provides for freedom of religion and has not made Hinduism the state religion.
Hinduism has always professed to be a tolerant religion, saying that all faiths are valid and acceptable ways to God. That view accommodates the many religious beliefs and practices that make up India’s Hindu sectarian landscape, from lofty monotheism to varieties of Vishnu and Shiva worship. But Hindu tolerance seems to end when it comes to religions like Islam or Christianity that do not similarly accept the view that all religious paths are equally valid paths to salvation.
The truth is, it has been Christianity that has been tolerant in India, at least non-violent, though it has often been intolerant in other parts of the world at different times in history. However, on its part Hinduism’s tolerance has unfortunately been accompanied by a deep-seated, long-standing doctrine and practice of caste prejudice and discrimination. India has traditionally had four main castes plus many sub-castes — and outcastes, sometimes called untouchables, usually called Dalits in India today.