With all the religious violence in India, is it safe for a Catholic to live there?

Historically the most significant religious violence in India has involved its two largest religious groups, Hindus and Muslims. Christians in India (the majority of whom are Catholic) make up scarcely 2% of the population, and thus for many years they have remained largely on the sidelines of the conflict between these larger groups. However, high-profile murders of priests and Christian religious workers have occurred in recent years, and devastating violence broke out against Christians in Orissa state in 2008 after the murder of a local Hindu guru. As in many parts of the world, issues of class and socioeconomic status conflate with religious identification, and the caste system, though officially abolished, remains extremely powerful in India. Minority Christians, especially those who come from the lower rungs of the caste ladder, have become an easy scapegoat for radical Hindu nationalists. Thus Christians face marginalization, harassment and worse in the rarefied political climate of India today.

Given this situation, is it safe for a Catholic to live in India? It all depends on context. The violence of recent years defies generalization; attacks on Christians have occurred in both urban and rural areas and affected both foreign missionaries and native Indians. But millions of Catholics persevere in their faith and continue to live normal lives throughout the vast Indian subcontinent.

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.