The 1991 census indicated that there were 23 million Christians in India, making up 2.3 percent of the total population. However, Christian executives and demographers estimate the number of Christians at 50 million, or 5 percent of the population. Whatever the correct figure, the number of Christians in India is growing. This is supported by the fact that there are more than six hundred churches in Delhi, with services conducted in almost any major language. In Bangalore, a city of 6 million, there are 970 churches and at least twelve accredited theological institutions, with three or four offering doctoral degrees. In Chennai (Madras) 10 percent of the population is Christian, worshiping in more than two thousand churches. Some of these congregations are small (60 to 100 people), and some meet in residences rather than churches. However, there are many congregations whose attendance is above a thousand, even five thousand in all of the three cities noted. At the same time there are two churches in Chennai, the New Life Assembly of God and the Apostolic Christian Assembly, whose average attendance on Sundays as of 2004 is 23,000 and 15,000, respectively. Christianity is thus making an impact on India’s urban populations as well as on the rural and tribal peoples.
The idea of conversion from one faith to another does not sit well with many Hindus, who are upset by the Christian claim concerning the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior. Christians, however, believe in the proclamation of Jesus Christ, which can take many forms: social, educational, works of compassion, disaster rehabilitation, and offering forgiveness.
Nita Kumar, writing in September 1993 in the Economic Times (Bangalore), took a rather different perspective when expressing her concern that India had not until then been able to successfully forge a path to modernity. The missionaries organized their institutions, she says, in such a way that they did succeed where others had failed in modernizing those who studied in them. The central contribution of Christian missionaries then, she asserts, has not been so much conversion to Christianity as it has been conversion to modernity. This she describes as a no-nonsense rationalistic and humanistic approach to life. Those who are thus converted are what Kumar refers to as “true ‘modern’ Indians.” Moreover she reckons it is they who are “the builders of the new India.”
The fact that the Christian community has contributed positively to nation building is uncontested. Today there are Christians integrated into the very fabric of all areas of Indian society, both in the public and private sectors, from members of Parliament, chief ministers, corporate executives, physicians, engineers, and down to chauffeurs, chefs, and guards at the gate. To paraphrase the late Bishop Stephen Neill of the Trinelveli Diocese, Church of South India: for the Christian Church and its mission in India, the task has been challenging, and along the journey a number of mistakes have been made, but equally surprising, perhaps, is the fact that such a considerable measure of success has been accomplished.
See also Andrews, C. F.; Azariah, Vedanayakam S.; French Impact; Gandhi, Mahatma M. K.; Paul, K. T.; Portuguese in India; Wellesley, Richard Colley; Xavier, Francis
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CINEMA The development of India’s film industry— one of the world’s largest—is as old, as varied, and as exciting as the history of the medium itself. The Lumiere moving pictures that took Paris by storm at end of 1895 were enthralling Bombay audiences by the next July. Shooting for the first Indian feature film, Raja Harishchandra, started in 1912, coinciding with the
Poster for SHREE 420, Popular Film. Directed by Raj Kapoor and released in 1955, SHREE 420 is a classic Hindu tale of the stuggle between good and evil. AKHIL BAKSHI / FOTOMEDIA.
Appearance of full-length features in the United States. The first Indian “talkie” was shown in 1931, two years after the first British and French talkies made their bow.