Cover Story

Dreams and reality

"Dreams and reality" Continued...

Issue: "On the rails," Oct. 9, 2010

Inside a nearby Bridge of Hope center, nearly 100 elementary-age children learn that they are not untouchable, as they recite Bible verses and sit under a hand-painted sign reading: "Jesus said, Let the children come to Me."

The children also spend the afternoon learning math, science, reading, and conversational English. A social worker at the center helps neighborhood children gain entrance into local schools that sometimes turn away Dalit children. She helps others attend Christian schools, if possible.

Education is key to finding opportunities beyond the menial jobs that keep many in grinding poverty, and the young social worker says parents are eager for their children to learn: "Many of the parents can't even write their names."

Many of the parents also have trouble providing food for their families: Inflation has brought a steep climb in food prices and has left many scrambling. At the end of one recent afternoon at the New Delhi center, children sat in full classrooms, scooping rice and beans from deep, silver dishes before going home. For some, it's the only meal they'll eat all day.

If productivity and education are chipping away at deep-rooted poverty, experts say that the government should foster an economy that encourages the poor to develop and thrive.

Derek Scissors of the Heritage Foundation says increasing government intervention in markets has done more harm than good to the poor. After nearly two decades of reform that helped free up markets and create more opportunity, Scissors says the government is reversing course: "The state is shoving the private sector aside because it wants to do more and more and more."

A painful example came in August: Government officials in New Delhi admitted that they had allowed some 67,000 metric tons of grain to rot, and that another 17 million metric tons were in similar danger. The reason: layers of government intervention in markets.

The Indian government guarantees farmers a set price for grain and encourages farmers to sell their grain to the government. When government officials took in a surplus of grain this year, they sent it to the market. But they also overpriced the grain, so it didn't sell. Exporting wasn't an option because the government banned such exports in 2007.

That means the government may waste enough grain to feed 140 million people for a month in a country with a 40 percent poverty rate. The Indian Supreme Court has tried to intervene, ordering government officials to release some of the grain to the poor. It's unclear how much food will reach poor populations in time to avoid vast waste.

Meanwhile, plans for menus at the Commonwealth Games are robust: Officials promise to offer food from all over the world, including a variety of fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, cheeses, nuts, yogurt, and salad. The Times of India reported that the central kitchen is set to serve up to 30,000 meals a day.

Not destroyed

Persecution is ongoing, say Indian pastors, and helps to build the church

One church leader in central India has a chilling way of describing the persecution he says is a constant reality for many Christians in the predominantly Hindu nation: "They try to catch us from the water."

The evangelical pastor-who asked to remain anonymous to protect his ministry and his safety-says that Christians are often targets on the day of their baptism. So are their pastors. "I know one pastor who was jailed seven years for baptizing," he says.

Accounts of persecution in India ebb and flow in media reports, but Christians in India say it's an ongoing reality.

The pastor from central India says in some areas, pastors conduct baptisms in secret: Church members take different routes to rendezvous at predetermined locations to witness baptisms of new Christians. But precautions don't always work. And extremists who want to persecute Christians sometimes lure pastors into harm by asking them to come and pray for a relative or speak with them about Christ. At least three ministers who have gone to such meetings, the pastor says, were discovered dead a few days later.

Another church leader says he escaped beatings three times in reaction to his becoming a Christian in a remote village. And another pastor endured a group of radicals carrying him into a Hindu temple and trying to force him to worship other gods. He refused.

K.P. Yohannan, who is Indian and the president of the Dallas-based Gospel for Asia, says persecution is "a way of life" for many Christians in India: "There is not a day that goes by that I don't get an email or a telephone call to the extent that somebody has been beaten up."

Yohannan says that extremists often oppress Christians to wield power, especially over the lowest castes. "A Dalit who would live as a Dalit is always convinced in himself that he is less than an animal in value," he says. "But the Christian faith liberates him-he is equal in value, he is a child of God. And that is the biggest threat to the people in power."

The pastor in central India says persecution hasn't hampered the growth of the church there. "The church has grown the most since the persecutions," he says. "Persecution builds the church."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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