India is marked by its “unity in diversity,” a term coined by its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The nation is home to dozens of languages, cultures, traditions, and religions, and the founding leaders of the nation were careful to accentuate the celebration of this diversity.

Though certain exclusivist ideologies that stress uniformity have come to the fore of India’s social life—deriving their validity from being politically empowered—Indians, by and large, remain not only tolerant of but revel in their diversity.

Christianity in India is as old as Christianity itself, or at least that is what is believed, and tradition says that the apostle Thomas arrived in India and established the first churches. For nearly 2,000 years, Indian Christians have had a dialogue of life with the adherents of the diverse faiths found in the Indian subcontinent and have largely had a peaceful coexistence. (This is in spite of the fact that colonial rule in India positioned Christianity as a foreign faith to the country, and Western missionaries actually faced opposition from Western leaders.)

Though Christians today only compose 2.3 percent of India’s total population, they have historically cultivated a reputation of service, largely through their work in education and healthcare. Yet increasingly this ministry has been questioned and viewed with suspicion and cynicism by hardliners who believe it is only an attempt to manipulate India’s most marginalized.

To illustrate the close relationship that Indian Christians have cultivated with Indians of a variety of faiths, CT spoke to Sikh, Bahá’í, Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu leaders, asking them to share Bible verses that inspired and personally moved them. CT also asked four Christian leaders who came from non-Christian backgrounds about a religious text from their former faith that they admired and that positively inspired them.

Their bios are below, and their responses can be found in this special series’ nine articles, listed to the right on desktop and below on mobile.

Our Bahá'í Respondent:

A. K. Merchant is a leader with the Lotus Temple and the Bahá’í Community of India and general secretary for The Temple of Understanding—India. He is an author and subject expert in interfaith education and actively advocates for gender justice and environmental issues.

Our Buddhist Respondent:

Budh Sharan Hans, is a prominent Dalitbahujan (a leading Dalit movement) thinker and social activist from Patna, Bihar. A winner of the Ambedkar National Award that honors work with India’s marginalized, he challenges mainline Hinduism’s understanding of the caste system through public speaking and writing, including his magazine, Ambedkar Mission.

Our Hindu Respondent:

Goswami Sushilji Maharaj is national president of the Indian Parliament of Religions, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. He is also a choreographer, actor, and spiritual guru.

Our Jain Respondent:

Sharad Jain is an attorney, businessman, and the founder and secretary of Shishu Sanskar Kendra (School) in Mahasamund, Chhattisgarh State, India.

Our Sikh Respondent:

Shamandeep Kaur is a schoolteacher.

Our Christian Respondents:

Ram Surat has spent 27 years sharing the vision and mission of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and fellow Indian anti-caste social reformer Jyotirao Govindrao Phule. Currently based in Bihar, India, he champions the cause of caste reconciliation among the Dalit and OBC communities in North India.

Rajendra Prasad Dwivedi was a staunch Hindu before he read the New Testament and accepted Christ at the age of 22. Today, he ministers among the high caste Hindu Brahmins and is writing a book titled Christ Is the Fulfilment of All Quests. He previously worked in the state education department in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

Vinod Shah, former CEO of the Emmanuel Hospital Association, an association of Christian hospitals, New Delhi, is presently based in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. A pediatric surgeon and a practicing doctor, Shah set up India’s first long-distance medical education program to empower government general physicians and turn them into full-fledged family physicians.

Rajdeep Singh from a Sikh background and today is the pastor of Focal Point Church, Ludhiana. Also referred to as “Priest on Wheels”, Singh is a substance abuse survivor, a biker, social worker, motivational speaker, and the founder of Nomads on Wheels Riding Club Ludhiana and Priest on Wheels Foundation.