For most of 2020, it seemed that India had escaped the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. A swift lockdown had seemed to stop the worst of the spread, even as it economically devastated many Indians, including many Indian Christians.
But it seems any hope that India would emerge unscathed from the disease has ended.
Today, for the fifth straight day, India has set a single-day record for the number of positive Covid cases. More than 350,000 people tested positive for COVID-19, and nearly 3,000 people died from the illness.
And that’s likely a significant underestimate.
Horror stories are emerging from cities like Delhi, where hospitals are nearly full and there are no more ICU beds. The BBC reports some patients are forced to try to recover at home, and must turn to the black market for oxygen tanks. The going rate for oxygen support through the black market is more than six times the usual price.
“We’ve been hit with unimaginable challenges, but we are still focused on the most-persecuted during this crisis,” Pastor Samuel says. “We’re doing all we can to help provide emergency relief to Christian families desperate for aid as hospitals overflow and the need for relief is at an all-time high.”
India is in crisis. The current second wave of infections has made the situation worse than anywhere in the world.
And for Christians in India, the crisis may be even worse.
Discrimination and persecution—in a pandemic
Last year, much of Open Doors’ work through partners in India was to help Christians who were barely able to make ends meet—some pastors were unable to even afford food, and some believers were discriminated against when government aid was distributed.
In the first half of 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19 infections in India and during the sudden lockdown, Open Doors partners were able to reach more than 100,000 Christians with emergency aid. Of this number, our research indicates that between 80-90 percent of these believers experienced discrimination in government aid or were denied aid completely.
“Some Christians even hid the fact they were Christians in order to obtain government aid,” says Pastor Samuel*, an Open Doors partner in India.
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During the first wave of the pandemic in India, our partners noticed alarming trends. “Christians may be discriminated against in the shops and be forced to travel to other villages to obtain food,” notes Heena, another Open Doors partner, said at the time. “We’ve seen Christians being given less food aid in distribution of relief aid, if given any at all. “Often, aid distribution is pooled together for [several] villages. Christians are discriminated against in this collective.
“Those in rural areas tend to be more affected by discrimination as they tend to be the daily wage laborers in their areas. They also rely on communal resources for water and other utilities. Those in the cities are less affected by boycotts as they generally have access to their own water supply and have government jobs.
“Christians are often told to renounce their faith or they will not receive aid. Warnings and threats are commonplace.”
Unfortunately, there’s no reason to believe this current crisis will spare Christians the same level of persecution. Day laborers have been sent home from many of India’s largest cities, creating a similar pattern to last Spring, when there was much suffering for believers.
India remains ranked at No. 10 on the 2021 World Watch List, and food and medical aid remains a powerful tool of discrimination and oppression against believers. “The pandemic has changed the persecution dynamics,” Pastor Samuel says. “We’ve seen countless acts of discrimination. Christians are being ignored in the food distribution. Whether that’s because the government doesn’t give it to them or because the local villagers send them away, it’s still discrimination.”
Partners dealing with sickness and persecution
The current wave of sickness and death ripping through India is impacting Open Doors’ ability to do ministry and work through our partners on the ground. More than 20 of our partners and their family members have recently tested positive for COVID-19—and some of them are in critical condition.
Additionally, we have heard urgent prayer requests from pastor and churches around the country who are dealing with the outbreak. Several Christians have already died, some of whom were ministry partners.
All of these factors have created a heartbreaking reality for Indian Christians: They suffer because of the pandemic wreaking havoc on their country’s healthcare system—and they suffer doubly because of discrimination and persecution. Even in the best of times, being a Christian in India can lead to brutal abuse and oppression. But during the COVID-19 pandemic?
It can mean starvation or the loss of loved ones.
Christians in India have asked for urgent prayer. Here’s how you can pray:
- Pray for the country as it grapples with the massive pandemic and the potential for significant loss of life. Pray God will deliver the world from the pandemic.
- Pray for Christians in India, as they grapple with both huge case numbers and steady persecution.
- Pray especially for poor Christians, who may have lost jobs as cities have shut down. Pray they will not be discriminated against for food.
- Pray for Open Doors’ partners who have COVID-19, that they would recover and heal.
- Pray for the Open Doors’ partners who continue to serve persecuted Christians in India. Pray they would be kept safe and healthy, and that God would lead them to the most vulnerable.