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Shivanika, friend of KanikaAt a coffee shop in Delhi, Kanika thought she was spending just another afternoon passing time with her childhood friend Jo Jo, avoiding the heat and the crush of people outside. But there was something different in the way Jo Jo approached her that day. He had a special question for her: Do you know what is happening to your soul when you die? Kanika had no idea, and that worried her.

Surprisingly, in their twenty years of friendship, Jo Jo, an Indian Evangelical Christian, and Kanika, a Hindu, had never discussed their religions. That day at Costa Coffee though, Jo Jo started a long discussion, scribbling Christian themes and images on the napkins scattered around him. Kanika collected the napkins and poured over them that night in bed.

In the weeks to come, Kanika began talking to other Christian friends and considering a conversion. She knew hardly anything about Christianity and had grown up in a devout Hindu family, but the question of life after death remained unanswered for her.

Now, four years later, at 24, Kanika is at a crossroads. She has become an Evangelical Christian in secret, and her family disapproves of any reference she makes to Christianity.

There are an estimated 24 million Christians in India, or 2.3 percent of the population. In Delhi, less than one percent of the population is Christian; 82 percent are Hindu. Throughout India, Christians have faced violence and had their churches destroyed, but Delhi residents have largely avoided persecution. It is a point of city pride that so many different religions can coexist: Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, and even a small Jewish population. But coexisting doesn’t mean the lines between the faiths are blurry.

Kanika’s parents are not happy with the changes they’ve seen in their daughter. In many ways, their household resembles that of any with a young adult still living at home but testing the limits. Daily life involves regular battles over Kanika’s participation in Hindu worship. Often, Kanika finds herself “not telling a lie, but not telling the truth.”

Recently, her family planned to rise at dawn to join long lines of practicing Hindus waiting to worship Manasa devi, the goddess of snakes, which is thought to cure chicken pox, among other things. Her parents thought it natural that Kanika accompany them on their 5 a.m. journey to the temple, but Kanika resisted. At this point, Kanika is embarrassed and dismissive when she explains Hindu customs.

“Hindus worship the animals, the plants, the trees, the rivers — idols, I mean they would do a lot of crazy things. I do not get what they do and why they do it,” she said. In worshipping Manasa devi, Hindus avoid using heat. They cook food the day before and don’t use hot water. They’ll also leave food in the road as an offering to the goddess. Kanika could barely walk down her street because it was covered with offerings. In her view, it’s all part of “worshipping a weird kind of ugly looking idol.”

At first, Kanika told her mother not to wake her, but in the middle of the night she changed her mind. This would not be a battle she would take on. “I realized I should go with my mom and witness what people do and pray for them.” She secretly told the idols: “‘Okay, people worship you, but you are not God.’”

It had been a long time since Kanika had gone to temple with her family. She stopped practicing in the midst of her conversion. Jo Jo gave her a Bible, took her to his church, the Delhi Bible Fellowship, and introduced her to more Christian friends. When her parents caught on, they limited her contact with her Christian friends. When they found her Bible and a notebook filled with letters from Kanika to God, they threw them away. “It is a difficult thing because you cannot share with them, and they will not even listen to you.” Kanika was saddened, but not deterred.

Kanika’s parents want her to marry a Hindu from her caste, or social designation, the Marwaris, known as business people or shopkeepers. She can choose a man who fits those criteria or they will choose a husband for her. “I do not want to hurt my parents by going against them but I have been praying about it because I want to get married to a believer.” It’s a dilemma, but Kanika is turning to prayer for an answer.

Kanika’s family is devout. Her grandmother attends temple everyday for at least two hours. Her parents go every Tuesday, at the least. They also worship in a special room in their home, filled with images and statues of gods. Before every meal, they take some food to the temple as an offering.

“They would definitely disown me if they knew I was a Christian, ” Kanika said. There are struggles ahead, on both a daily level — whether to appease her parents by going through the motions of Hindu worship — and on a more monumental level — how to marry a Christian of her choosing. Kanika is calm though. “I strongly believe that if you believe in Christ you do not need anybody to depend on…ever. Yeah, he’s our best friend, he’s our first love.”

About the photo: One of Kanika’s fellow Christian converts at the coffee shop who attends the same Bible study group with Kanika.


Emily FrostEmily Frost is a radio reporter and online journalist. She is an Annenberg Fellow at USC’s Annenberg Graduate School for Journalism and an executive producer and host at Annenberg Radio News.

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59 Comments

Why are people worried about life after death??? Isn't it better to live in the present and do good work and help people?? Religious conversions disturb the social fabric of India. Also idol worshiping is symbolic in nature. One person converted from Hinduism, one more enemy to Hinduism.

Basically equating Hinduism to worshipping snakes... References have been made to Hindus committing violence against Christians in India, and not vice versa? Pure bullshit and ignorant writing.

Silly Girl !!!! Whole story is pro conversion .....i have seen conversion with money.......lured with many things....

Kanika's dilemma is not rare, there are many Hindus like her who are ignorant about their religion and whenever they are confronted by people like Jo Jo who themselves have no knowledge about the religion they are maligning The kanikas get influenced by what they say and become so called believers. It is funny to say the least when two persons talk about a religion which they both know nothing about and conclude that it is no good, thereafter they compare it with christanity which one of them have limited knowledge about and decide to turn believer. It took Kanika no time to read the Bible wherein Jesus himself gets very little to say because more than 50% is about what St. Paul says who was not even an Apostle. Mathew Mark Luke and John contradict each other The genealogy of Jesus is confusing because he is supposed to be born of a Virgin but even that does not match between Mathew and Luke. I am sure Kanika has not even heard about "The Council of Nicea" and how the Bible was conceived and forced on people by Emperor Constantine. I advise her to do some research on the Bible and read The Bhagwad Gita which has all the answers to the questions put forth by Jo Jo then and only then decide on whatever path she wants to follow.

I could hear wailing "Jesus is coming, Jesus is coming" from the neighbor's house. And not just the family, there were other people; unknown voices, who were equally as panicked, or petrified, at whatever was coming in there. A few seconds of silence, and then I heard the trigger-words "your Gods are demons. Jesus is the real God", and that was it for me. I banged at their door hard and swift. Aunt came out in a minute and asked what was the matter. I strongly demanded to speak to the voice which had just not sit out racial abuses to our religion and Gods...He wasn't going anywhere without a beating.

You can still remain hindu and accept jesus.jesus is never about religion.for the son of god died for eveybody ,s sins.nobody can acheive the perfection as jesus even the best christians so claims.jesus teaches about being gentle ,helping the needy,even says to love your enemies. Its giving eveything even if you have nothing left.

Matthew 19:16-26 ERV

A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. But if you want to have eternal life, obey the law’s commands.” The man asked, “Which ones?” Jesus answered, “‘You must not murder anyone, you must not commit adultery, you must not steal, you must not tell lies about others, you must respect your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ ” The young man said, “I have obeyed all these commands. What else do I need?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, then go and sell all that you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow me!” But when the young man heard Jesus tell him to give away his money, he was sad. He didn’t want to do this, because he was very rich. So he left. Then Jesus said to his followers, “The truth is, it will be very hard for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom. Yes, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” The followers were amazed to hear this. They asked, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “This is something that people cannot do. But God can do anything.”

its a funny world, we are living,people spent more time on researching by reading articles,reviews,consumer reports for buying a good mobile or tv or car.so they can buy value for their money.when it comes to the concept of god,they say well everbody has his own beliefs.
as far as i know there is only two religlions in this world one says to attain god do something, mediate,worship,recite holy mantras,be good person,help,others basically it means save yourself by your own efforts.
but other one says a saviour is given, his name is jesus christ.he is the way,truth and the life.man cannot save himself by his own efforts.

It's a pity that instead of actually reading the Vedas and the Gita and getting to know Hinduism in its true scientific form she took the escape route and simply switched religions as if she were trying on clothes in a mall. The Vedas do not support idol worship, at all ; they ask us to worship elements of nature because they help sustain life BUT there is no emphasis on mindless rituals anywhere. All the rigid, meaningless rituals were practiced by humans which became custom with passage of time." What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" I am a strong believer of Hinduism but only of the original form I and so many people i know never follow rituals they disagree with but we don't automatically dismiss Hinduism as regressive and redundant. Try to get to know the truth first instead os acting in haste. In Vedic times women had property rights, right to speak in public (which even the western countries granted only in 1900's to women), right to education, choose a profession, even undergo thread ceremonies (which is restricted to males now and even that ceremony is redundant with the disappearance of the gurukul system) , gandharva marriages were accepted and popular. Hinduism in its original, true form is progressive, scientific and says a lot about the soul. Its sad no one makes the effort to get to know it these days. Take it from a girl who has studied the Vedas in detail, get to know your religion before taking any drastic steps.

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