By Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Aid workers say Christians, including pastors and their families, are excluded from government food aid in several parts of India despite an ongoing lockdown to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
Barnabas Fund, a Christian aid group, told Worthy News that minority Christians in the mainly Hindu nation are forced to convert to Hinduism if they want to receive aid. Just over two percent of India's 1.3 billion population are Christians, according to official estimates. Though some rules will be relaxed, most of India's people must remain in what is the world's most extensive lockdown, authorities announced. The government extended stay-at-home orders for another two weeks after May 4.
Barnabas Fund warned that these harsh measures would add to the pressure experienced by church leaders from Hindu hardliners. It mentioned a man, only identified as “Pastor James," who was allegedly prevented by Hindu hardliners to collect the food that India's government provides to impoverished families.
"The distribution was organized by local Hindu extremist groups, who dominate the government in the state where Pastor James lives. They refused to give him anything unless he renounced his faith in the Lord Jesus," Barnabas Fund said. "Pastor James would not deny his beloved Saviour. So he went home empty-handed to his hungry family," the well-informed group added. His full name wasn’t revealed amid security concerns.
Other Christians are also discriminated in areas of India where Hindu hardliners control the local government, according to Christian aid workers. "Ashok, a daily wage worker, lost his meager earnings as the lockdown prevented him from going to work. He is one of many who suffer this way," Barnabas Fund said. "Because he is a Christian, he is not getting the government food ration. He and all his family now eat only once a day; at the other mealtimes, they drink water."
Barnabas Fund said it provides Christian families with rice, flour, cooking oil, potatoes, onions, salt, and spices as well as face-masks and soap. "We are also helping Christians from impoverished North-East India, who traveled thousands of miles to get work in South India," the group stressed. "They mostly have low-paid jobs in restaurants and the food industry – jobs that disappeared when lockdown came. They find it impossible to get the government food ration."
Barnabas Fund said that it also managed to provide food aid for the migrant workers, including formula milk powder for families with babies and toddlers. "For some of these little ones, it is the first milk they will have had for four weeks.” The group says it is raising donations as $11 could already provide rice and flour for an Indian family of four for a month.
One family from a Christian village in Manipur state was quotes as saying that the “five of us have not been able to work or go out.” They added: “We have lived on meals others gave us. To get a whole month's supply gives us such security and tells us that our Lord looks after us.”
Impoverished India has reported more than 35,000 coronavirus cases, and more than 1,100 confirmed deaths from the virus disease COVID-19. Commentators say the true extent of infection may be higher in a country where millions of people do not have access to adequate healthcare. The appeal to help Christians in India came shortly after reports that in neighboring Pakistan, believers face starvation due to a lack of aid from authorities.