This feature was taken from an Editorial in "The North India Church Review"
It is true that the Indian Christians in the broader categories fall within the religious minorities, which somehow have been wrongly linked up with the colonial rule of the Europeans, particularly British which in fact is not true. Because well established traditions and historical evidences tell us that Christians have been living in the state of Kerala (India) right from the first century A.D. Therefore, the Christians or Christianity can be considered not only one of the oldest Indian religious minorities, but also one of the oldest religions.
The Indian Christians as a minority are the second largest, numbering according to 1991 Census 19,640,284 (2.34%), which of course is divided in a number of denominations. The two broader divisions based upon their theological differences are: One, Roman Catholic and two, various Protestant and Orthodox Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic membership stands between 55% to 60% of the total Christian population, and the other Christian traditions are between 40% to 45%. The smaller groups, which include the different Pentecostal an Evangelical groups are also part of the second division. The Roman Catholics in India are governed by their highest body, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) with their headquarters in New Delhi and on the Protestants and Orthodox side, the largest umbrella body in the National Christian Council of Churches in India (NCII) with a membership of 29 Indian Churches, representing major traditions of Protestant and Orthodox. The headquarters of NCII is in Nagpur. Both the CBCI and NCII cover more than 80% of the Christians of the country in their membership.
Besides denominational divisions, Indian Christians are also divided on the basis of their social, cultural and racial origins. There are four very distinct groups which can be named: (a) The Anglo-Indian Christians, who came into existence basically with the mixture of European blood, (b) the Christians of Scheduled Caste origin (Dalit Christians), (c) the Christians of Scheduled Tribes origin, which further can be divided into two distinct groups of Central India and North East India based upon their racial origin, and (d) the Christians of Upper Caste considered origin.
The Indian Christians are distributed almost in all the States and Union Territories of our country. The distribution of their population reveals a very interesting pattern. As already has been mentioned according to the Census of India 1991, the total Christian population was 19,640,284, which amounts to around 2.34% of the total population. These figures do not include the Christian population of Jammu and Kashmir, (as there was no Census held there in 1991). The interesting fact of these figures is 65% of the total Christian population live in the four Southern states and Union Territories of India and 14% of all Christians live in North East India and the remaining 21% live in North India.
Further, these figures can be seen according to geographical areas. The total area of all the Indian States and Union Territories is 3,280,483 Sq. Kms., out of which Southern States and Union Territories cover 642,285 Sq. Kms or about 20%, where 65% Christians live. North Eastern states cover 176,576 Sq. Kms or about 6% where 14% Christians are living; and the Northern States (including Central, Western, Eastern states) and Union Territories cover 2,431,621 Sq. Kms. about 74%, where the remaining 21% Christians live.
The information given here in this profile of Christians, as a minority, are important for us because these will help us in understanding some of the basic issues related to Christians in India. For example, it is important for us to know the theological based positive denominational divisions, because these will help us to understand the nature of issues, like Christian personal law. In the same way it is equally important for us to know the different groups of Christians based on social, cultural and racial realities, because these will help us to know, how one of these groups like the Anglo-Indians, though part of the Indian Christians, have become a special group with regard to language and culture. The problem of Christians of Scheduled Caste origin (Dalit Christians) and the Christians of Scheduled Tribes origin, again, are different. For example, the Dalit Christians are a twice discriminated group, first along with Dalits in general and secondly on the basis of religion, they are denied of their basic fundamental constitutional rights, (based on Articles 15, 21, 25). The tribal Christians, of course, share all the disabilities, which their fellow tribals belonging to other religions are faced with, which are basically connected with their rights of land, water, forest and the whole question of their identity as indigenous people. Of course, the issue like the Christian personal law and the various matters related to the Christians as a religious group are related to the whole Christian Community, including the fourth group, the Christians of Upper Caste considered origin.
The geographical distribution of the Indian Christians is also important, as stated above, because this is what will tell us about the strength and weakness of the Christians as one of the minorities. For example, in the whole of North India, covering 74% territory of the country, there are only today about 5 million Christians (not even a quarter percentage of the total population of the region) who are generally deprived of their basic rights. Leaving out a very few pockets, they do not face only social, economical and religious problems, they are also politically powerless.
Another problem, which can be mentioned here, is connected with the level of education. Normally, Christians are considered to be well educated, but this is not true. This, particularly, is not true with the Christians of North India, where more than 90% Christians share the background of either Dalit or Tribal (adivasi) and mostly are living in rural areas. Also, because of their very historical background, they shared most of the disabilities almost in all areas of life. In this regard, a number of surveys at the sub-regional levels have been conducted. In 1981, the surveys conducted by the Diocese of Chandigarh (Church of North India) showed among the Christians of Gurdaspur District (where 50% Panjabi Christians live) only 15% men were literate and among women, only between 5% and 2% were literate. A more recent survey conducted jointly by the Christian Institute of Religious Studies, Batala and Ditt Memorial Centre, Amritsar, in the sub-region of Panjab, which includes Amritsaar and Gurdaspur districts, showed an improved situation, but still according to it, there are only 31% Christians who are literate as against the Panjab literacy of 57.14% and the national literacy rate 52.11% (Census 1991). Economically, this survey also has shown that 5.36% Christians of this area are having some agricultural land, the rest 94.64% are land less labourers. All their information reveals the fact, that in general, the Christians, as a minority, are suffering from all kinds of deprivation in different areas of life, like any other communities such as Muslims and Buddhists, which need a serious attention of both the Government as well as of the Church (Christian Community) in India - J.M.