India – A Profile
India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world with a kaleidoscopic variety and rich cultural heritage. It covers an area of 3,287,590 sq. km (1,269,346 sq mi), extending from the snow-covered Himalayan heights to the tropical rain forests of the south. As the 7th largest country in the world, India stands apart from the rest of Asia, marked off as it is by mountains and the sea, which give the country a distinct geographical entity. Bounded by the Great Himalayas in the north, it stretches southwards and at the Tropic of Cancer, tapers off into the Indian Ocean between the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west.
India is the world’s largest democracy with a population of 1.17 billion. Of this, 41 percent live on less than US$1.25 a day, and 80 percent on less than US$2 a day. With 47 percent of children underweight, India has severe levels of child malnutrition, ranking it third in the world. The future of rural India, where the highest concentration of poverty prevails, depends on overcoming enormous challenges in health, education, nutrition, population and environment.
People from low castes, or indigenous tribes as well as sex workers, young people and other marginalised groups face unequal access and rights and, as a consequence, experience poor sexual and reproductive health.Contraceptive use in India is low, maternal mortality rates are high, and there is a lack of information and services on safe motherhood. There are almost two and a half million people living with HIV in the country. Gender inequity also means that traditional practices still exist in some areas, for example child marriage and practice of sex determination: aborting girls in the womb or killing girl babies.
More than 12% are Muslims. At the same time, about 80% are Hindu, embracing 330 million gods and goddesses. In this nation of religious pluralism, no official state religion is proclaimed – India has been careful to preserve freedom of religion in its constitution. Christians constitute about 2.3% of the population according to the 2001 Census, although they comprise a much smaller minority in the highly populous and diverse Northern regions.
There are 18 officially recognized languages, and 1,500 unofficial dialects.
Christianity in India
The apostle Thomas is said to have set foot in Kerala, South India, in 52 AD. Orthodox Christianity was well established in the south by the year 200 AD. By 345 AD, over 500 Christian communities thrived in South India.
Vasco da Gama’s visit to India led to the start of Roman Catholic work in the 16th Century. Today the Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian church in India with over 8,500,000 adherents.
Protestant missions began with the arrival of Danish-Halle Lutherans in South India in 1706. The Baptist Missionary Society’s first missionary, William Carey, arrived in 1793, and established work at Sarempore. This marked the beginning of the modern era of Protestant missions in the world.
Since Independence in 1947, and due to government policy, the number of foreign Christian workers in India has decreased rapidly. On the other hand, the number of national Christian workers and independent indigenous churches has increased tremendously, and it is exciting to see what God is doing through the Indian Christian movement.