Reaching the Nations

Regional Profile - South Asia

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 5,131,069 square km.  Principally consisting of the Indian subcontinent and the southern Himalayas, South Asia includes islands in the surrounding Indian Ocean and some arid, interior areas bordering Central Asia.  India is the region's largest country, accounting for three-fifths of South Asia's total land area.  The Himalayas are one of the world's largest mountain ranges and contain the highest peaks in the world.  Additional large mountain ranges include the Karakoram in Kashmir and northern Pakistan, the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, and the Western Ghats in southwestern India.  Alpine or temperate climatic conditions occur in most mountainous areas.  The Deccan Plateau consists of upland areas occupying interior terrain in central India which is subject to cooler temperatures than other areas of India.  Hot, arid conditions occur in the Thar Dessert straddling the Pakistan-India border and arid regions of Afghanistan.   Several large rivers originate in the Himalayas and form major river plains that are densely populated, including the Ganges in eastern India, the Indus in Pakistan, the Brahmaputra in far eastern India.  Hot, tropical conditions occur throughout most river plains and low-laying areas of South Asia.  Earthquakes, flooding, droughts, cyclones, landslides, tsunamis, sea level rise, and monsoon rains are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include fresh water scarcity, soil degradation, overgrazing, deforestation, desertification, pollution, water-borne diseases, and overpopulation.   

Population: 1,616,700,766 (July 2011)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.305%    

Fertility Rate: 2.81 children born per woman (2011)    

Life Expectancy: 64.81 male, 68.07 female (2011)

Peoples

Indo-Aryan: 74%

Dravidian: 18.5%

other: 7.5%

South Asia experiences a high degree of ethnic diversity with nearly three-quarters of the regional population pertaining to the Indo-Aryan ethnic family.  Indo-Aryans principally reside in all areas of South Asia except Afghanistan, western areas of Pakistan, northern areas of Nepal and Bhutan, southern India, and northern Sri Lanka and comprise the majority of the population in all South Asian nations except Afghanistan and Bhutan.  Major Indo-Aryan groups include Bengalis, Nepali ethnic groups, Punjabis, Sinhalese, and Sindhis.  Dravidians constitute nearly one-fifth of the regional population and reside primarily in south India and northern Sri Lanka.  The largest Dravidian ethnic groups include Telugus, Tamils, Kannadigas, and Malayalis.  Indo-Aryans tend to be somewhat more Caucasian in appearance and Dravidians somewhat darker, although millennia of intermixing have created a broad ethnic spectrum without distinct boundaries.  Other ethnic groups in the region are primary Iranian, Tibetan, and Mongoloid, among which include Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Balochs.

Languages: Hindi (30%), Bengali (13%), Punjabi (6%), Telugu (5%), Marathi (5%), Tamil (5%), Urdu (4%), Gujarati (3%), Kannada (3%), Bhojpuri (2%), Malayalam (2%), Oriya (2%), Pashto (2%), Sindhi (1%), Maithili (1%), Chhattisgarhi (1%), Sinhalese (1%), Assamese (1%), Dari (1%), Nepali (1%), Sariaki (1%), Chittagonian (1%), Haryanvi (1%), Magahi (1%), Deccan (1%), Malvi (1%), Rangpuri (1%), Kanauji (1%), Dhundari (1%), other (3%).  English is spoken by many as a second language, in government affairs, and as a language of interethnic communication.  Languages with over three million speakers include Hindi (488 million), Bengali (206 million), Punjabi (94 million), Telugu (86 million), Marathi (83 million), Tamil (74 million), Urdu (70 million), Gujarati (54 million), Kannada (44 million), Bhojpuri (39 million), Malayalam (38 million), Oriya (38 million), Pashto (29 million), Sindhi (19 million), Maithili (18 million), Chhattisgarhi (18 million), Sinhalese (16 million), Assamese (15 million), Dari (14 million), Nepali (14 million), Sariaki (14 million), Chittagonian (13 million), Haryanvi (13 million), Magahi (13 million), Deccan (13 million), Malvi (10 million), Rangpuri (10 million), Kanauji (9.5 million), Dhundari (9 million), Bagheli (7.8 million), Konkani dialects (7.6 million), Sylheti (7 million), Varhadi-Nagpuri (7 million), Santali (6.2 million), Lambadi (6 million), Kashmiri (5.6 million), Marwari (5.6 million), Balochi (5 million), Mewati (5 million), Hadothi (4.7 million), Merwari (3.9 million), Dogri (3.8 million), Mina (3.8 million), Godwari (3 million), Hindko (3 million), and Shekhawati (3 million).  

Literacy: 28-94% (country average: 58%)

History

Some of the oldest known human settlements and civilizations in the world thrived in South Asia such as the ancient Indus civilization in present-day Pakistan 5,000 years ago.  Hinduism is among the world's oldest religions and significantly influenced the Indian subcontinent, dating back to as early as the second millennia B.C.  The advent of Buddhism occurred sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C. in northeast India and Nepal.  South Asia was dominated by tribalism and small nation states during the first millennia before and after Christ.  During this period Buddhist settlers from India settled the Maldives and Sri Lanka.  Alexander the Great pushed eastward into Afghanistan and Pakistan during the fourth century B.C. and founded the Hellenistic state of Bactria.  The Arabs invaded the region and spread Islam in the seventh century A.D.  Science and technology blossomed in India during the Middle Ages.  The Mongols invaded northern South Asia in the thirteenth century but only successfully captured areas of Afghanistan and Bhutan.  Neighboring kingdoms influenced and controlled present-day Afghanistan until the beginning of the twentieth century as Pashtun tribes unified to from a nation state in the nineteenth century.  Islam spread to the Maldives in the twelfth century.

European powers, particularly the British, began establishing trading posts in India and Bangladesh in the sixteenth century and by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries controlled, occupied, or heavily influenced nearly all of South Asia.  The Portuguese maintained a short rule of just fifteen years in the Maldives in the mid-sixteenth century and later became a British protectorate.  Nation states were united to form Nepal in 1768.  War persisted through much of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in northern South Asia as Nepal, Bhutan, and other nation states and kingdoms fought for expansion meanwhile British military forces made advances in the region.  Afghanistan defeated the British army in 1839 and maintained much of its autonomy notwithstanding the United Kingdom controlling foreign affairs from 1880 to 1919.  From the 1920s to the late 1970s, various rulers in Afghanistan attempted to modernize the country as a secular state.  In 1947, the United Kingdom divided the Indian subcontinent into a predominantly Hindu state (India) and a Muslim state (Pakistan).  Sri Lanka achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1948 and has since experienced significant ethnic and political conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils.  The segregation of Hindu and Muslim populations was incomplete in India and Pakistan and land disputes arose, resulting in wars in 1947-48, 1965, and 1971 between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, as well as numerous border skirmishes.  East Pakistan seceded from Pakistan to form Bangladesh during the third war in 1971.  The Maldives gained independence in 1968.  Greater democratization took place in Nepal following the appointment of a cabinet for the king in 1951 and multi-party elections in 1990.  The Afghan monarchy was overthrown in 1973 and replaced by a republic which was overthrown in 1978 and replaced with a Marxist state.  A failed Marxist government left a power vacuum following the Soviets' withdrawal in 1989,  which was filled by the Taliban.  The Taliban enforced an extreme interpretation of Islam which severely infringed on human rights and supported terrorists including Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11th terrorist attacks.  Tensions escalated between India and Pakistan following nuclear weapons testing by the two countries in the late 1990s.  In 1996, Maoists extremists began fighting for total control of the Nepali government, resulting in a decade of civil war.  The Maoist insurgency took control in the late 2000s and in 2008 formed a coalition government following elections. 

The United States formed an anti-terrorist coalition which invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and captured Kabul the following month with the assistance of the Northern Alliance.  The United Nations has assisted in the formation of a democratic government in the 2000s, which held elections in 2004.  Afghanistan has experienced marked economic development, but standards of living rank among the lowest worldwide.  Corruption is a major challenge which has limited economic development and political stability.  Lawlessness in many rural areas continue to challenge efforts by the newly instated democratic government and U.S. coalition forces to secure Afghanistan's borders, subdue pro-Taliban fighters, and rebuild the country after decades of internal conflict and foreign invasions.[1]  In the 2000s, Islamist militant groups, mainly Al Qaeda and Taliban residing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, destabilized Afghanistan and threatened Pakistan's stability.  Tensions between India and Pakistan improved following nuclear weapons development, but later rose following the involvement of radical Pakistani Islamist groups in the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.  Other events in the late 2000s threatened the stability of Pakistan as a nation state, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in late 2007, the rising unpopularity of President Musharraf and his resignation in 2008, and the loss of large amounts of territory to Taliban militants in 2009 in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province.  Bhutan maintained isolation from modernization until 2008 when Bhutan made the successful transition from a hereditary monarchy to a democratic constitutional monarchy.[2]

Culture 

Religion, former British rule, and tribalism and caste systems are the primary influences on societies in South Asia.  India and Nepal are the only nations in the world in which the majority of the population is Hindu.  Saturday is the day of worship in India and Nepal.  Caste societies operate in India and Nepal; lower castes and the Dalits (untouchables) continue to experience discrimination.  There are smaller numbers of Hindus in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka.  Islam heavily influence daily life for Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Pakistan and the relationship between Islam and government is often disputed and unclear.  Bangladesh and Pakistan generally offer greater rights to women than most Muslim nations although literacy rates are very low for women due to a lack of emphasis on women obtaining education. Stricter and at times extremist interpretations of Islam have been followed in Afghanistan especially under the Taliban and through the syncretism of tribalism with Islam.  In 2001, the Taliban destroyed two 1,500 year old massive Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley as they were viewed as idols.  Ethnic ties to Islam are especially pronounced in the Maldives.  Traditionally-Islamic ethnic groups also reside in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.  Buddhism is a major influence on the societies of Bhutan and Sri Lanka.  Poetry, theatre, art, music, and dance are common cultural traditions in South Asia.  Cricket is one of the most popular sports.  Alcohol and cigarette consumption rates are low compared to the world average in South Asia with the exception of Nepal where alcohol consumption rates are comparable to the world average.  Clothing for men is often loose fitting and in some areas has adopted Western styles whereas women generally wear traditional clothing.  Tea is commonly consumed throughout the region.  Polygamy is legal throughout South Asia, but only commonly practiced in Afghanistan.

Economy

GDP per capita: $2,200 national median (2011) [4.64% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.517

Corruption Index: 2.9

South Asia is among the world's poorest regions as the GDP per capita ranges from a low of $1,000 in Afghanistan to a high of $5,000 in Bhutan.  Like neighboring China, India has seen impressive economic growth, an immerging middle class, and is the regional economic power.  The Indian economy is dominated by agriculture and textiles but transitioning to include manufactured goods and services.  Recently India has gained greater importance in the worldwide economy with services provided through telecommunications and software engineering.  India produces a large number of educated individuals who speak English and can be hired by companies based in English speaking countries.  Major barriers to economic growth and development in South Asia include corruption, civil war, high unemployment and underemployment, political instability, government mismanagement, low literacy rates, poor standards of living, governments meeting the welfare needs of hundreds of millions living in poverty, and natural disasters.  Landlocked location for Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bhutan have contributed to challenges developing the economy.  The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami devastated portions of Sri Lanka and the Maldives and set back economic growth in affected areas.  Afghanistan has the lowest HDI rating whereas Sri Lanka has the highest.  Agriculture employs half of the work force or more in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal.  Services generally constitutes 40% or more of the GDP in South Asian nations.  Natural resources in the region include natural gas, oil, coal, salt, iron ore, precious and industrial metals, gems, limestone, timber, and farmland.  Textiles, chemicals, steel, transportation equipment, soap, furniture, fertilizer, food products, mining, cement, wood products, software, machinery, pharmaceuticals, tourism, rubber processing, telecommunications, and banking are common industries.  Common crops include wheat, rice, fruit, nuts, livestock, jute, tea, corn, roots, sugarcane, cotton, vegetables, potatoes, fish, coconuts, and opium poppy.  Primary trade partners include the United States, China, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand, Kuwait, and Iran.

Corruption is perceived as widespread and a serious barrier toward greater economic growth and development.  Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium.  The Afghan-Pakistani border remains insecure in many areas, increasing illegal activity in both nations.  Most heroin consumed in Europe and Eurasia is produced from opium poppies cultivated in Afghanistan.  Corruption and lawlessness impede efforts to address drug cultivation problems in the region.  The Taliban utilized the cultivation of opium poppies for revenue, which is still deeply entrenched in agriculture for many areas of Afghanistan.  Several countries in the region have serious human trafficking violations for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation such as India.  Little has been done by governments in the region to combat human trafficking.  In Bangladesh, most regard the police as the most corrupt division of government, followed by customs.[3]  Many have to pay a bribe to secure employment.  The Bangladeshi government has done little to address corruption issues.  Corruption is perceived as widespread and allegations of government corruption have been made frequently.  There are increasing concerns over the lack of public confidence in the electoral system in the Maldives.[4]  The Kashmir region and additional tracts of territory between India, China, and Pakistan are disputed.  Corruption is perceived as present but not widespread in only Bhutan. 

Faiths

Hindu: 61.7%

Muslim: 31.6%

Christian: 1.8%

Sikh: 1.4%

Buddhist: 1.1%

other/unknown/none: 2.4%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  19,919,000

Seventh Day Adventists   1,546,653  4,219

Jehovah's Witnesses  40,634  558

Latter-day Saints  14,035  86

Religion

Hinduism is the most commonly practiced religion in South Asia, followed by approximately 62% of the population.  Hindus are the majority in India and Nepal and are religious minorities in Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.  The caste system strongly influences religion in India and Nepal.  Muslims account for 31.6% of the regional population and account for the majority of the population in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Pakistan.  There are sizeable Muslim minorities in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.  Pakistan supports the world's second largest Muslim population whereas India supports the third largest.  Nearly all Muslims in South Asia are Sunnis.  Christians are overwhelmingly Catholic and comprise more than one percent of the population only in Sri Lanka (6.2%), India (2.3%), and Pakistan and Nepal (1-2%).  Several far eastern Indian provinces are predominantly Christian and Christians in Pakistan often live in segregated communities.  Sikhs comprise 1.4% of the regional population and are concentrated in the Indian region of Punjab.  Buddhists constitute the majority in Bhutan and Sri Lanka and account for a little over one percent of the South Asian population.  Nepal has a sizeable Buddhist minority.  Fundamentalist Islam has been most apparent in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Jainism has 4.2 million followers throughout India.  There are some religious tensions in South Asian nations, primarily between Hindus and Muslims in India and Bangladesh and Buddhists and followers of other religions in Bhutan and Sri Lanka, although these tensions are also ethnically based. 

Both Hinduism and Buddhism, now practiced mainly in other nations of east and southeast Asia, originated in India.  Hinduism represents a broad spectrum of beliefs varying from polytheism to pantheism to monotheism. The branches of Hinduism lack any centralized authority, and Hinduism is scarcely interpreted in the same way in any two villages. Most educated Hindus may accept certain core elements of their faith, yet reject many others. Hindu temples are rare among Indian expatriate communities.  Although the vast majority of Indians are Hindu or Muslim, other indigenous religions, including Sikhism (20 million adherents) and Jainism (8-10 million adherents), constitute small minorities.  These religions share similarities with Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam in addition to their own unique features.  

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitutions of most countries in South Asia protect religious freedom but most governments restrict this right.  Religious freedom is most severely restricted in the Maldives as the law prevents citizens from following any other religion and the constitutions declares Islam as the state religion.  Foreigners are not permitted to encourage citizens to practice other religions and can only practice their religious faith in private.  The Maldivian government and constitution stipulate that citizens must be Muslim and non-Muslims cannot become citizens. 

The constitutions of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan declare Islam as the state religion.  In Afghanistan, the federal government has attempted to increase religious freedom since the fall of the Taliban, but societal abuse of religious freedom and intolerance are major challenges.  Some Muslim groups which follow Shari'a law consider apostasy from Islam a crime punishable by death, although there have been no recent instances of formerly-Muslim Christian converts receiving the death penalty.  There are no laws banning proselytizing, but missionary activity is culturally discouraged and rarely occurs.  There are no legal restrictions regarding the importation or dissemination of religious literature.[5]  In Bangladesh, there are no laws barring proselytism although the conversion of Muslims is socially frowned upon and discouraged by local government authorities.  Overall tolerance for religious minorities has increased in Bangladesh in recent years.[6]  In Pakistan, religious freedom is severely restricted for non-traditional Muslim groups and non-Muslims.  Strict blasphemy laws demand respect for Islam and Islamic teachings.  Non-Islamic missionaries may operate in the country, but must profess to not be Muslim and that they do not preach against Islam.  The government restricts the total number of missionaries by only replacing ones which leave the country.  Marriages between different religious groups are not recognized by the state.  Violent attacks on Christian churches and religious minority communities frequently occur and the prosecution of offenders is inconsistent.  Government attempts to treat minorities more fairly by placing some in government positions, but societal discrimination remains severe.  The most serious restrictions are placed on the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam.  Ahmadis are not permitted to identify themselves as Muslims, hold public meetings, or sell religious literature, and are banned from performing religious pilgrimages to Islamic holy sites.[7]

There is no official state religion in Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka although Buddhism is favored by governments in Bhutan and Sri Lanka and Hinduism is favored by governments in India and Nepal.  In Bhutan,  non-Buddhist missionaries are permitted to enter and may proselyte. Christians worship in the privacy in their own homes as they are not permitted to pray openly and build churches.[8]  In India, anti-conversion laws restrict Christian proselytism in five states (Gujarat, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh), challenge individuals to convert from Hinduism to other religions, and reinforce the status of the Hindu majority.  Additional Indian states have considered anti-conversion legislation, such as Rajasthan, but these proposals have not become law.  Anti-conversion legislation limits the freedom for NGOs to operate.  Legislation specifically bans proselytism with the allurement of monetary gain or intimidation.  Many Christians have wrongfully been accused of alluring converts by other means by Hindu extremist groups.  Local police at times have done little to protect the rights and lives of religious minorities.  Violence targeting Christians has been most extreme in Orissa and Karnataka and violence against Muslims occurs most regularly in northern India and Gujarat.  Religious extremists carried out terrorist attacks in Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Delhi in the late 2000s.[9]  In Nepal, personal conversion to a different religion is allowed by law, but often results from ostracism from family and the community for Hindus converting to Islam or Christianity.  Violent attacks on Christians by Hindu extremist groups periodically occur.[10]  In Sri Lanka, the government has encouraged tolerance among differing religious groups but esteems Buddhism as the primary religion.  Persecution from Buddhists toward minority groups has been severe.  Buddhists feel threatened by the conversion of many Buddhists to Christianity and harass most Christian churches.  False reports circulate that Christians force or coerce Buddhists with other means to convert.  The predominately Hindu Tamils persecute Muslims and expelled all Muslims in areas of their control in 1990. [11]  

Societal abuse of religious freedom is common throughout South Asia and most apparent in Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.  Many religious minorities keep their religious affiliation private or reside in segregated religious communities.  Christian aid workers in Afghanistan have occasionally been kidnapped and harassed and a few have been executed by Taliban insurgents.[12]  In Sri Lanka, many Christian missionaries and pastors were murdered or reported missing due to violence from Buddhist extremists in the late 2000s.  Most of these cases were never pursued by police and government and those committing these crimes have gone unpunished. 

Largest Cities

Urban: low (Sri Lanka - 14%); high (Maldives - 40%) 

Delhi, Mumbai, Karachi, Kolkata, Dhaka, Lahore, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad (India), Ahmedabad, Pune, Chittagong, Surat, Kanpur, Faisalabad, Jaipur, Rawalpindi, Kabul, Lucknow, Nagpur, Colombo, Patna, Bhilai, Gujranwala, Hyderabad (Pakistan), Indore, Vadodara, Bhopal, Coimbatore, Multan, Ludhiana, Agra, Kochi, Nasik, Asansol, Meerut, Vishakhapatnam, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Peshawar, Kolhapur, Varanasi, Khulna, Kathmandu, Rajkot, Jamshedpur, Amritsar, Madurai, Dhanbad, Jabalpur, Allahabad, Shambajinagar, Vijayawada, Srinagar, Sholapur, Ranchi, Thiruvananthapuram,, Gauhati, Jodhpur, Tiruchirappalli, Gwalior, Kozhikode, Quetta.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

16 of the 63 cities with over one million inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  15% of the regional population resides in the 63 most populous cities. 

LDS History

LDS missionaries first preached in South Asia in 1850 in India and for a brief period in Sri Lanka in 1853.  Missionaries forced to leave Sri Lanka that same year due to persecution.  LDS congregations were established in several Indian cities, such as Kolkata (Calcutta), Mumbai (Bombay), Chennai (Madras), and Pune (Poona) and missionary activity occurred almost exclusively among Europeans.  Missionaries were removed from India in 1858 and all LDS congregations were closed by 1903.  Missionaries called to labor in India during the nineteenth century were unable to learn the native languages, which may have been a result of working primarily among Europeans.[13]  

The LDS Church was reestablished in South Asia in India during the 1960s and 1970s when several Indians were introduced to the Church and were converted.  Expatriate members began living Pakistan in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the first missionaries arrived in 1993.  The Southeast Asia Mission [renamed the Singapore Mission in 1974] was organized in 1969 and administered most of South Asia until the organization of the India Bangalore Mission in 1993 to service India.  LDS missionaries visited Sri Lanka in 1975 to evaluate whether the country was ready for missionary work.  American expatriate members were the first Latter-day Saints to live in Sri Lanka in the twentieth century and introduced the Church to Sri Lankans.  Several senior missionary couples began serving in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s working with humanitarian efforts and teaching those who wanted to learn more about the Church, but active proselytism did not take place.[14]  The Church became officially registered in Sri Lanka in 1979.  The first members living in Bangladesh were expatriates primarily from Canada on government assignment in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  One Canadian member family introduced the Church to their cook and his family, who later became the first Bangladeshis to join the Church in Bangladesh.  Seminary and institute were both operating in India by 1992, in Pakistan in the mid-1990s, and in Sri Lanka in 1998.  In February 1993, Elder Carmack and Elder Tai from the Asia Area Presidency made an investigatory trip to Nepal to meet local members and expatriates in Kathmandu.  The Church was registered with the Pakistani government in 1995.  Senior couple missionaries began serving on humanitarian assignment in Nepal as early as 2001, and assisted with branch leadership development.  With the exception of Afghanistan, other South Asian nations pertained to the Singapore Mission until the organization of the India New Delhi Mission in 2007 when northern India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Pakistan were assigned to the India New Delhi Mission and southern India, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka were assigned to the India Bangalore Mission.  Missionaries serving in the India New Delhi Mission reported that the first convert baptisms occurred in Bhutan in 2008.  Latter-day Saints did not have a presence in Afghanistan until after the 2001 U.S. led coalition invasion.  United States servicemen constituted the entire church membership until a few native Afghans joined the Church shortly thereafter as a result of associations made with LDS members in the military.  In 2008, Afghanistan became part of the Middle East/Africa North Area; other nations pertain to the Asia Area.  The Church continues to lack official recognition in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Nepal.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 14,035 (2010)

There were less than 1,000 Latter-day Saints in South Asia in 1987, 700 of which resided in India.  Membership totaled 1,580 in 1993, 2,770 in 1997, and 4,064 in 2000.  By 2005, there were approximately 9,300 members.  Among countries with an LDS presence in 2000, LDS membership grew most rapidly between 2000 and 2010 in Sri Lanka (313%), Pakistan (231%), India (221%).  Overall church membership increased by 245% for South Asia between 2000 and 2010.  Membership growth has been slow in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal but convert baptisms have increased in Bangladesh and Nepal in recent years.  There were four convert baptisms in Bhutan in 2008.  There are no known members in the Maldives.  There were approximately 700 members in Afghanistan in 2009, nearly all of which were American military personnel.  In 2010, LDS membership in India accounted for 66% of LDS membership for South Asia; Pakistan account for 19%, Sri Lanka for 9%, and Afghanistan for 5%.  The ratio of the general population to LDS membership varies from a high of one member per 1.59 million in Bangladesh to a low of one member per 16,448 in Sri Lanka.  In 2010, one in 115,191 was LDS in South Asia.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 57 Groups: 29+

There were 12 branches in 1987 and 19 branches and several groups in 1993; 14 of the branches were in India.  The number of branches in South Asia increased to 23 in 1997, 31 in 2000, 40 in 2005, and 57 in 2010.  In 2010, approximately 28 groups functioned in Afghanistan for military personnel[15]; additional groups likely operate at present in Bhutan, India, and Pakistan.

The first district was organized in Bangalore, India in 1980.  Additional districts were organized in New Delhi India (1986), Hyderabad India (1988), Islamabad Pakistan (1990s), Colombo Sri Lanka (2000), Kabul Afghanistan Military (2008), Karachi Pakistan (2008), Chennai India (2009), Coimbatore India (2009), Visakhapatnam India (2009), and Rajahmundry India (2011).  The number of districts increased from one in 1980 to five in 2000 and ten in 2010.  In 2012, the Church organized its first stake in South Asia in Hyderabad, India.

Mission branches in South Asia which do not pertain to a district include the Dhaka, India Bangalore Mission, India New Delhi Mission, Kathmandu, Kolkata, and Mumbai Branches. 

Activity and Retention

The number of active members varies by branch, with some newly-organized or remote branches with 40 or fewer active members and some older wards and branches in cities in India with multiple LDS congregations have as many as 150 to 200 active members.  Convert retention rates appear highest in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan largely due to the large amount of self-vested interest in the Church and establishing regular church attendance habits prior to baptism.  As many as 70% of church membership in Nepal may be active.  Recent convert retention rates in India and Sri Lanka are moderate.  Overall member activity rates are moderate to above average, with the highest member activity rates in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal (50% or higher) and the lowest member activity rates in Sri Lanka (30%).  Member activity rates appear to range between 40-50% in India and Pakistan.  Active LDS membership in South Asia is estimated to number between 6,000 and 6,500, or 43-46% of total church membership.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bengali, Sinhalese, Farsi, Arabic, English

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in Arabic.  Translations of the entire Book of Mormon or select passages are available in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Sinhalese, and Farsi.  Limited numbers of church materials are available in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, and Sinhalese.  Several DVD movies such as Finding Faith In Christ and The Restoration are available in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil.  Audiovisual materials are available in Urdu include Joy to the World and The Restoration.  The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Gospel Principles or Gospel Fundamentals are available in Bengali, Farsi, Marathi, Nepali, and Pashto.  The Articles of Faith and a family guidebook are translated into Bengali.  Two church proclamations are available in Nepali.  The Articles of Faith are also available in Farsi.  Only the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith is translated into Divehi, Kannada, Malayalam, and Punjabi.  Kazakh LDS materials are limited to the Sacrament Prayers, a basic unit guidebook, the Articles of Faith, and hymns and children's songs.  The Liahona magazine has four issues a year in Tamil and Telugu, three in Urdu, two in Sinhala, and in Hindi.

Meetinghouses

In early 2011, there were approximately 50 LDS meetinghouses in South Asia, most of which consisted of renovated buildings or rented spaces.  During the 2000s, several church-built meetinghouses were constructed in South Asia, primarily in India.  In Afghanistan, church meetings occur on U.S. military bases, often in chapels which serve as places of worship for various religious groups found among the armed forces. 

Health and Safety

In Afghanistan, conditions remain dangerous for foreigners living and working in the country due to a lack of government control in many regions and Taliban insurgency along the Pakistani border.  Living conditions are among the poorest in the world.  Armed kidnappings and the murder of foreign aid workers have occurred on an ongoing basis.  In Bangladesh, health issues include threats typical of poorer, tropical nations such as hepatitis, typhoid, malaria, and rabies.  Violence directed towards religious minorities from intolerant Muslims may pose safety threats to missionaries and converts.  In India, sanitation can be poor in both rural and urban locations.  Threats of violence against foreign missionaries have occurred and some LDS missionaries have experienced intimidation and wrongful accusations of violating the law.  Religiously unstable areas pose a safety threat to missionaries.  In Nepal, violence towards religious minority groups is a safety concern for missionaries and members.  In Pakistan, safety issues present a major concern.  Violence targeting religious minorities presents a safety concern for members and missionaries, which include intimidation, kidnapping, sexual and physical violence, and murder.  Suicide bombings occur regularly and without warning in the largest cities and the most unstable areas near the Afghan border.  Fighting in the Kashmiri region restricts missionary work.  High crime and corruption in Karachi pose safety threats.  No non-native LDS missionaries serve in Pakistan due to safety issues.  In Sri Lanka, safety is a concern due to threats and acts of violence against Christian missionaries.  Violence between ethnic groups poses some danger to native and foreign missionaries. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

Limited LDS humanitarian and development work had occurred primarily in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as of early 2011.  There have been at least 38 projects in India, 20 in Nepal, two in Sri Lanka, and one in Pakistan.[16]  Projects in India have included emergency relief, clean water projects, neonatal resuscitation training, vision treatment training, the construction of educational facilities, and donations of school supplies, hygiene kits, blankets, wheelchairs, sewing machines, and medical equipment.[17]  The Church sent food, clothing and emergency supplies to victims of a large earthquake in Gujarat in 2001.[18]  In 2002, members and missionaries in Bangalore volunteer at an orphanage for handicapped children.[19]  Members in India made over 1,200 family kits containing emergency supplies for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.[20]  In 2008 and 2009, the Church assisted in building 20 dams in Rajasthan to provide greater water availability in the region.  Projects in Nepal have included clean water projects, English language training, emergency relief, and donations of educational supplies, tools, wheelchairs, equipment for the blind, and hygiene kits.[21]  The Church provided DPT immunizations in Nepal in 1991.[22]  In Pakistan, the church provided needed humanitarian aid for sufferers of the 2005 earthquake.  50,000 blankets, 1,000 winterized tents, 300,000 pounds of medical supplies, and 42,000 hygiene kits were initially sent.  Due to inadequate provisions of refugees for winter temperatures, the Church purchased and delivered an additional 150,000 blankets and 5,000 winterized tents in late 2005.[23]  In Sri Lanka, Humanitarian missionaries began teaching English as a second language in 1982.[24]  A large increase in aid and development projects began following the 2004 tsunami.  Immediately following the tsunami the Church sent first aid, Atmit nutritional suppliments, and clothing.[25]  650 Fishing boats were built with assistance of the Church.  Micro-credit loans were issued to hundreds of women.[26]  In Bangladesh, the Church provided aid during flooding caused by a cyclone in 1991.[27]  Latter-Day Saint charities operated literacy programs in the late 1990s.[28]  German members collected 7,500 Euros to donate to impoverished Bangladeshi children.[29]  Following the destruction of Cyclone Sidr in 2007, the Church sent additional aid.[30]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Governments and local laws in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka provide the greatest religious freedom in the region as there are no bans on public Christian meetings, proselytism, or foreign missionaries; however the LDS Church has only taken advantage of these freedoms in India and Sri Lanka.  In Afghanistan, lawlessness and social intolerance of non-Muslim groups prevents an LDS Church establishment among the indigenous population.  Conditions for religious minority groups appear to be improving, which over time may allow for some limited LDS missionary activity to occur by member referral among Afghans.  Latter-day Saints among the American military worship freely in their respective congregations on military bases.  In Bangladesh, the Church has yet to take greater advantage of the degree of religious freedom offered by a predominantly Muslim country to religious minorities.  Rarely do Islamic states offer rights to Christians that include proselytism.  There do not appear to be any legal barriers preventing an official church establishment.  In India, Christian intolerance is widespread and is most intense around elections and Hindu holidays.  There were instances in 2008 when elders were falsely accused of giving money to people who joined the Church (a crime in India) and some missionaries were briefly imprisoned.  These instances with false accusations have been resolved with help from local and mission leadership.  Restrictions on sharing the gospel exist in some regions.  Out of the six zones in the India Bangalore Mission in September 2009, open proselyting was permitted only in four.  In Sri Lanka, the Church enjoys full religious freedom but societal pressures from Buddhists limit religious freedom.  There is little government initiative to protect the rights of Christians and prosecute radicals who commit violent acts against religious minorities.

Obtaining missionary visas in Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka are major barriers to expanding mission outreach by full-time missionaries as at times government officials severely restrict the number of visas granted to the Church or do not grant any visas at all.  In India, senior couples have been unable to be replaced, resulting in some of the limited number of young elders assigned to mission logistics and finances.  

Significant restrictions on religious freedom in Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, and Pakistan have prevented the assignment of foreign, proselytizing LDS missionaries and limit the religious freedom of local members.  Member-missionary activity is permitted in Bhutan but heavy restrictions on constructing churches or holding Christian public meetings prevents missionary work extending beyond the personal contacts of converts and investigators.  There are no realistic prospects of an LDS presence in the Maldives at present as the constitution requires Maldivian citizens to be Muslims and the government prohibits any proselytism.  Latter-day Saints at present can only operate in small groups among foreigners in private and no proselytism among foreigners is permitted.  Humanitarian and development work sponsored by the LDS Church in the Maldives does not appear possible under current government restrictions.  In Nepal, open proselytism is prohibited and the Church only assigns senior humanitarian missionaries.  Some opportunities for member-missionary activity among friends and family are present.  Christians report harassment from police and Hindu extremist groups.  In Pakistan, government and society restrict the Church's missionary program to reach just Christians, permitting in outreach to only 1-2% of the population.  There are no restrictions on assembly and worship however.  Christians often live segregated from Muslims in compounds or villages.  This presents opportunities for the Church to reach large numbers which can legally be reached.  Limitations on the numbers of missionaries which can enter Pakistan restrict Church missionary programs which usually rely heavily on full-time missionaries.  Missionaries cannot preach against Islam. 

Cultural Issues

Negative social attitudes regarding conversion from Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism to other religions and Christian proselytism create cultural barriers for LDS missionary activity.  Ethno-religious ties are pronounced for many ethnic groups and present a nearly insurmountable obstacle for the LDS Church to address with some groups, such as in Afghanistan, Bhutan, and the Maldives.  In Bhutan, Christian converts likely face significant family and societal oppositions if they make their conversions known.  Converts from Hindu backgrounds often face ostracism from their families and communities.  Hindu celebrations and the caste system present challenges for members in balancing the Church's beliefs with their cultural customs.  Islamic and Hindu holidays interrupt LDS proselytism in India and have potential to disrupt future LDS proselytism prospects in other nations.  Christians become a frequent target of persecution and violence throughout the region.  In Pakistan, those who join the Church may not only be ostracized but may become the target of violence.  British rule and the presence of religious minorities for hundreds of years may have contributed to the greater leniency for these groups to operate despite the integration of Islam and government. 

Poverty is a major challenge for LDS mission outreach as standards of living and literacy rates are low.  Although Indian's growing economy is establishing a middle class and reducing poverty, the rural population suffers from low living standards.  Development of self-reliance and economic skills among members and the population is challenging due to poor living conditions and literacy levels.  Low literacy rates limit the value of literature distribution and may present barriers for the development of gospel understanding and self-reliance among members.  Literacy rates for women are often half of literacy rates for men due to cultural attitudes regarding women and education.  Furthermore, there are hundreds of millions of Indians who are illiterate; the majority of whom are women.  Those who lack literacy skills will meet greater difficultly in serving in the Church than those who are literate.  Other Christian groups have addressed the challenge of literacy through audio scriptures, multimedia presentations, and the establishment of Christian schools.  Humanitarian projects aiming to address these challenges may assist in a greater establishment of the Church in the long term through establishing a positive reputation and providing service.

In accordance with Hindu culture, LDS worship services are held on Saturdays in Nepal whereas in India LDS church services occur on Sundays.  Many parents in India exercise a large amount of control over their children even in their adult years.  Missionaries frequently report that youth may regularly attend Church for an extended time until they turn 18 and can be baptized without parental consent.  Although this can challenge the prospects for youth who are interested investigators, this has likely contributed to higher retention and activity rates.  However the strong bond between parent and child may be partially responsible for the failure of many Indian members to serve missions in part-member families.  In Sri Lanka, converts potentially come from Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or Muslim backgrounds, which challenge the ability of missionaries and local leaders to meet individual needs and teach the gospel to their understanding.  British colonialism has assisted in the Westernization of many which may cause friction between the more educated and less educated Sri Lankans.  Some Christian groups view the Church unfavorably and persuade others to avoid missionaries and members.[31]  Polygamy is commonly practiced in Afghanistan.  Those engaged in a polygamous relationship must end these relations in divorce and be interviewed by a member of a mission or area presidency to be baptized.  The poor treatment of women in many areas of South Asia may create cultural challenges for Latter-day Saints to address who are victims or perpetrators of abuse.  Corruption and drug cultivation and trafficking create unsafe conditions in many areas for full-time missionaries and non-Muslims in Afghanistan. 

The abstinence of most Muslims from alcohol provides opportunities to reach this religious group once societal and government restrictions improve in South Asian nations with sizeable Muslim populations.  Overall alcohol and cigarette consumption rates are low in South Asia and reduce some cultural barriers for LDS mission outreach.  The frequent, widespread consumption of tea throughout South Asia may present barriers between local customs and Church doctrine. 

National Outreach

5% of the regional population resides in cities with an LDS congregation, are permitted to attend church services, and may be taught by local or full-time missionaries.  Muslims are completely unreached by the LDS Church in Afghanistan and Pakistan due to mission policy forbidding the teaching of Muslims; similar restrictions likely occur in other South Asian nations.  Afghanistan is not assigned to an LDS mission and is part of the Middle East/Africa North Area.  Local populations reached by the LDS Church are limited to Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as no known outreach occurs in Afghanistan, Bhutan, and the Maldives.  The percentage of the population reached by the Church is no greater than five percent in any nation in South Asia, with the greatest outreach occurring in India and Sri Lanka (5%).  Mission outreach in Bangladesh and Nepal occurs exclusively through local members and local member-missionaries, resulting in mission outreach in these nations restricted to the personal associations of local members.  Full-time LDS missionaries periodically visit Bangladesh to perform baptismal interviews and provide leadership and mentoring support.  In Pakistan, only local members serve as full-time missionaries who work solely through member referral among Christian communities.  India is the only nation as of April 2011 in which full-time missionaries extended outreach in their assigned areas without required local member involvement.  Some areas of India with full-time missionaries were unable to proselyte at this time however.  An LDS Church presence is limited to a single city in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal.  There are hundreds of cities with a 100,000 or more inhabitants that are unreached by the LDS Church.  Most administrative divisions in India and Pakistan have no LDS presence notwithstanding a Church presence for several decades and both countries accounting for the bulk of South Asian LDS membership today.  There has been no concentrated efforts by the Church and its members to reach Sikhs and Jains in India; it is unclear how members of these religions will respond to outreach.

Distance from mission outreach centers, reliance on full-time missionaries to expand national outreach, few local members, the majority of the population residing in rural areas, cultural barriers dissuading open proselytism, visa restrictions on foreign missionaries, low standards of living, ethnic conflict, lawlessness, the persecution of Christians, government restrictions on religious freedom, and corruption are major factors which have contributed to the extremely limited presence of the LDS Church in South Asia today.  There was no LDS mission organized in South Asia until 1993 and until 2008 many countries were still administered by the Singapore Mission, resulting in very few mission resources available.  LDS outreach commenced in most nations in South Asia through expatriate Western Latter-day Saints temporarily residing in various countries; without their diligence and initial efforts many of these nations would likely remain totally unreached by the LDS Church today.  Many local members who joined the Church as youth or young adults have served full-time missions and have provided an invaluable resource in maintain outreach in India and Pakistan in the face of the many challenges frustrating LDS outreach with North American missionaries.  Local leaders significantly expanded national outreach in India during the 1990s.  Some of the first converts in a few South Asian nations joined the Church in nearby nations with a Church presence.  A few of the first Afghans to join the Church were baptized in New Delhi in the late 2000s.  Similar opportunities exist in India to reach populations in neighboring nations that are currently unreached. 

The organization of a second mission in New Delhi is a welcome development that primarily occurred through greater numbers of local members serving missions as visa regulations have continued to limit the number of North American missionaries serving in the region.  Tremendous missionary manpower would be required to open most of South Asia to missionary work with full-time missionaries.  If all of the 340 LDS missions operating worldwide in mid-2011 were located in South Asia, there would be one LDS mission per 4.8 million people, roughly the equivalent of the ratio of missions to population in Latin America.  As the LDS Church's worldwide missionary force remains insufficient to meet the potential need of South Asia and North American missionaries are largely unavailable in the region due to visa restrictions, member missionaries working among local members and recruitment of native missionaries are most realistic prospects for future outreach into unreached cities and rural areas; vision and mentoring will be needed to achieve these purposes.

Ethnic violence threatens the Church's greater establishment among all ethnicities, such as in Karachi, Pakistan.  Notwithstanding these challenges the number of branches in Karachi increased from one to three in the 2000s.  India's two most populous cities of Mumbai and Kolkata have 13.2 and 16.4 million inhabitants respectively and no LDS missionaries assigned and only had a single LDS congregation operating as of April 2011.  Kolkata and Mumbai do not have very active missionary programs and no full-time elders serve in these cities due to religious tensions between Hindus, Muslims and Christians.  Local members in these locations will likely remain primarily responsible for increasing convert baptisms and retaining new members.  These locations may be suitable for senior missionary couples to serve in the future, offer current opportunities to open groups and dependent branches for members residing far from the church meetinghouse, and may one day support their own missions pending increasing numbers of local members serving missions and responsiveness to the Church from local populations.

Some of the greatest opportunities for future national outreach expansion are within cities already reached by the Church with sizeable LDS populations and the predominantly-Christian areas of far-eastern India.  The Church capitalized on opportunities to expand outreach in New Delhi, India during the 2000s as the number of LDS branches increased from two in the mid-2000s to seven by 2010.  Similar opportunities exist in Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Chennai but have not been explored.

The Church does not operate a single congregation in the Christian Indian states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland in eastern India.  These states have likely been unreached due to their distance from mission outreach centers, small populations, and lack of LDS materials in local languages.  Some LDS missionaries in southern India have taught investigators from these states and report that they are generally receptive to the Church.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

South Asia experiences some of the highest member activity and convert retention rates worldwide largely due to the high degree of conviction for many to join the Church in the face of family and community opposition and higher rates of member-missionary work than in many other areas of the world.  Many converts investigate the Church for lengthy periods of time, resulting in a strong understanding of the Church and its teachings, stronger personal testimonies, and the development of religious habits that perpetuate long-term member activity such as weekly church attendance and scripture reading.  Limited numbers of full-time missionaries assigned to the region have reduced member reliance on full-time missionaries for administrative and missionary responsibilities, further bolstering activity and retention rates.  In Afghanistan, member activity and convert retention rates are moderate to high as most the Latter-day Saints are U.S. servicemen.  The Church has demonstrated some of the greatest member activity rates in Nepal largely due to many youth serving full-time missions abroad and a strong member-missionary program among youth.  Member activity rates are high in many branches in India where some congregations function more like wards in Hyderabad and Bangalore.  Increasing numbers of members enrolled in seminary and institute, serving full-time missions, and preparing for temple marriages and commensurate membership and congregational growth during the latter-half of the 2000s indicate fair member activity and convert retention rates.  Inactivity in many locations is partially due to a lack of nearby congregations.  Members living on the opposite side of a large city from the Church's meetinghouse must make huge sacrifices in time and money to actively participate.

The LDS Church in Sri Lanka once experienced high member activity rates and today exhibits the lowest member activity rates in South Asia largely due to reliance on foreign full-time missionaries in the 2000s for teaching, baptizing, and retaining converts.  Rapid membership increase, quick-baptize tactics of foreign missionaries with limited prebaptismal preparation of converts, and distance from mission headquarters in Singapore resulted in worsening activity and convert retention.  The little progress that has been achieved in increasing active membership is evidenced by the lack of any new congregations being organized in Sri Lanka since 2002 despite the doubling of nominal membership.  Foreign, full-time missionaries were withdrawn in 2008 due to visas issues, creating future administrative, leadership, and outreach challenges.  The Church in Sri Lanka provides a valuable lesson for mission planners and church leaders on achieving sustainable growth that is headed by local leaders and members rather than full-time missionaries to maintain higher activity rates and to safeguard mission outreach in the event that foreign full-time missionaries are removed. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

With the exception of the Maldives, all South Asian countries exhibit significant ethnic integration challenges.  Most ethnic groups have few Christians and few or no Latter-day Saints, such as the Pashtun and Balochs.  All nations with an LDS presence in South Asia have too few members to provide leadership and administrative personnel to organize language-specific congregations within the same cities to reduce ethnic conflicts at church; only the LDS Church in Sri Lanka has ever operated differing language-specific congregations in the same city (Colombo), but a lack of active members and local leadership resulted in the consolidation of the Sinhalese and Tamil-speaking congregations.  Tribalism and past conflict between the multiplicity of ethnic groups is a major challenge for mission outreach in most areas of South Asia and have prevented the establishment of the Church in some locations due to civil war and unrest, such as in northern Sri Lanka where significant Tamil and Sinhalese conflict has persisted for decades and in the Kashmir region.  In India and Nepal, the caste system presents obstacles for membership growth and retention.  Converts from varying castes and ethnic groups often have little social contact with each other outside of Church.  These issues may lead to problems with assimilation.  Ethnic groups who have relocated from other regions of India and Nepal to the largest cities also face integration challenges.  In Pakistan, the most severe ethnic violence is found in the south, especially in Karachi.  Bitter ethnic conflict between the Sindhi and Mohajirs has continued for decades.  Incoming Pashtuns have also experienced violence from Mohajirs.  The integration of these groups into the same congregation may be difficult, particularly if most members belong to one group.  This situation would challenge members in the congregation and potential members from rival ethnic groups in joining the Church.  At present, there have been no reports of ethnic integration challenges in Karachi significantly affecting church growth but challenges may be forthcoming as the number of Latter-day Saints in Karachi increases.

Language Issues

The LDS Church faces serious challenges with language issues in South Asia as literacy rates are 50% or lower in most nation and the most commonly spoken languages have few LDS materials translated or none at all.  LDS materials are available in the first language of 99% of the population in Maldives, 92% in Sri Lanka, 83.9% in India, 72% in Bangladesh, 64% in Pakistan, 47.8% in Nepal, 38% in Bhutan, and 35% in Afghanistan.  As many as 75% of the population in the region speaks a language with LDS materials available as a first or second language, such as Hindi and Urdu.  Languages with over three million speakers in South Asia with LDS materials include Hindi (488 million), Bengali (206 million), Punjabi (94 million), Telugu (86 million), Marathi (83 million), Tamil (74 million), Urdu (70 million), Kannada (44 million), Malayalam (38 million), Pashto (29 million), Sinhalese (16 million), and Nepali (14 million).  Among languages spoken by over three million people with LDS materials, the Book of Mormon or selections from the Book of Mormon were only available in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bengali, and Sinhalese.  As of early 2011, the Church had yet to translate the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price into any of these languages, limiting the degree of gospel scholarship among members who only speak these languages.  Prospects appear high for the translation of additional LDS scriptures and materials in these languages in the coming years as the number of speakers of these languages who are Latter-day Saints is increasing, competent translators are available, and the need and utility of additional LDS materials in these languages is significant for ensuring greater church growth in the region.  There were no online LDS materials in any of these languages as of early 2011 with the exception of audio recordings of General Conference talks in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, and Sinhala.  Online materials provide another approach for expanding national outreach and can be utilized among South Asian immigrant groups residing abroad.

Languages without current translations of any LDS materials or scriptures in the greatest need for future translations include Gujarati (54 million), Bhojpuri (39 million), Oriya (38 million), Sindhi (19 million), Maithili (18 million), Chhattisgarhi (18 million), Assamese (15 million), Dari (14 million), Sariaki (14 million), Chittagonian (13 million), Haryanvi (13 million), Magahi (13 million), Deccan (13 million), Malvi (10 million), and Rangpuri (10 million).  Farsi translations of LDS materials and selections of the Book of Mormon may be useful among Dari speakers as Dari and Farsi share many linguistic similarities.  LDS materials in these languages will most likely not be translated until an LDS presence is established in the areas in which these languages are most commonly spoken.  Most these languages are spoken in areas unreached by the Church and many of these languages appear to lack speakers among local members at present who can serve as competent translators. 

Missionary Service

In early 2011, there were approximately 100 full-time LDS missionaries serving in South Asia.  All nations in South Asia either have no LDS missionaries assigned or have government restrictions or policies which greatly reduce the number of foreign full-time missionaries granted visas.  Local member serving missions often attend the Philippines Missionary Training Center.  Government restrictions and refusal to issue greater numbers of visas to foreign LDS missionaries have reduced the number of full-time missionaries assigned to India, but encourage local and mission leaders to concentrate on increasing the number of local youth serving missions.  Pakistan is the only nation with proselytizing LDS missionaries which is self-sufficient in its missionary force, largely due to government restrictions on foreign missionaries and youth and young adults comprising the bulk of Pakistani LDS membership.  In the past, foreign missionaries in India have temporarily served as branch presidents in newly opened branches in larger cities until replaced with a native branch president.  The India Bangalore Mission had 30 full-time missionaries in 1993.[32]  India is partially self-sustaining in its current missionary force, leaving missionary work vulnerable to the government dictating whether to issue visas to foreign LDS missionaries.   A large number of Nepali young men have served missions, many in neighboring India, and Nepal would be self-sufficient in its missionary force if proselytizing missionaries were assigned.  Returned missionaries greatly contribute to developing leadership throughout the region.  Returned missionaries will prove instrumental in establishing additional congregations and expanding national outreach throughout South Asia by staffing local leadership and training other members.   The number of members serving missions appears lowest in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.  As of early 2011, there had been no know Latter-day Saints to serve missions from Afghanistan, Bhutan,  or Maldives.  LDS missionaries have never been assigned to serve in Afghanistan, Bhutan, or Maldives.

Leadership

Local LDS leadership remains severely limited in South Asia and only available in sufficient numbers to staff multiple districts in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.  Notwithstanding a couple districts in India meet the membership standards to become stakes, inadequate numbers of active, tithe-paying Melchizedek Priesthood holders delayed the creation of stakes until 2012.  In the past decade, the Church has often waited to open new congregations in lesser reached or unreached areas of India until local membership can provide the needed number of priesthood leaders to fill branch callings.  For example, the KFG Branch was created in 2007 in Kolar Gold Fields and had a full native branch presidency notwithstanding no previously operating LDS branch.  In Pakistan, leadership is strong but limited as many members are youth or middle-aged.  The district president of the Islamabad Pakistan District in 2007 was a 29 year old returned missionary.[33]  Foreign members and missionaries supply leadership or provide assistance and mentoring to local leaders in the lesser-reached South Asian nations, such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.  In Bangladesh, few joined the Church between the mid-1990s and 2008 largely due to the shrinking number of foreign members who supplied leadership and mentoring for local members.  Convert baptisms began to occur more regularly in late 2008, with three convert baptisms that year and seven in one weekend in early 2011.  Expatriate members still met and lead the branch.  The LDS Church in Sri Lanka appears to have had the greatest difficulty generating self-sustaining local leadership among South Asian nations with an official LDS presence.  Membership growth greatly outpaced congregational growth in Sri Lanka in the 2000s, suggesting that few new male converts have been retained and trained for leadership positions to open additional congregations.  A lack of local leaders has contributed to the lack of national expansion for the LDS Church throughout South Asia and severely restricts outreach in Bangladesh and Nepal to a single city.  Little progress will likely occur until a greater number of men join the Church, remain active, and faithfully hold leadership positions.  Bhutan and the Maldives both appeared to have no foreign or local church leadership in early 2011.

Temple

With the exception of Afghanistan, South Asia is assigned to the Hong Kong China Temple district.  Afghanistan is assigned to the Frankfurt Germany Temple district, like most nations in the Middle East/Africa North Area due to American military servicemen constituting nearly all Latter-day Saints in that nation.  Temple trips occur infrequently and on an individual, family, or small group basis due to few members in the region, unfeasible travel expenses, and inordinate distances.  Indian and Pakistani Latter-day Saints comprise nearly all temple recommend holders.  In 2007, 90% of endowed Indian members held a current temple recommend.  Prospects appear favorable for a future temple in India to service South Asia once multiple stakes are established in a single metropolitan area, such as New Delhi or Hyderabad, but at present membership remains too limited to provide the needed leadership, temple workers, and patrons to keep a temple well-utilized.  Church leaders in New Delhi in 1992 promised members that if they were faithful, a temple would someday be built in New Delhi.  A future temple in New Delhi would reduce demands on time, money and distance for Pakistani members although tensions between India and Pakistan may limit travel.

Comparative Growth

Notwithstanding numbering among the most populated regions of the world, South Asia has one of the smallest regional LDS memberships and most limited mission outreach but has one of the highest member activity rates and membership growth rates for the LDS Church.  Accounting for two-thirds of regional church membership, India had the highest reported number of Latter-day Saints in the region and ranked fifty-sixth worldwide in membership and fifty-first in the number of congregations.  Of the five most populous countries without their own LDS mission, two are in South Asia (Pakistan and Bangladesh).  South Asia is one of the few regions which is close to becoming self-sufficient in its full-time missionary force largely due to the large number of youth and young adult members and the few missionaries the Church is able to assign to the region.  Congregational and membership growth rates have ranked among the highest in the world and compare to sub-Saharan Africa. 

Outreach-focused Christian groups have operated decades longer than the LDS Church in South Asia and report significantly more members, congregations, and missionaries.  Most of these groups are self-sufficient in local leadership and missionary needs, reducing the affect of missionary visa restrictions on church growth prospects.  Several denominations have church memberships in the millions.  The Seventh Day Adventist Church generally baptized over 100,000 new converts a year and organized 200-400 new congregations a year in South Asia during most years in the 2000s.[34]  Adventists had a presence in nearly all areas of India in early 2011 and had more members and congregations in every South Asian country than the LDS Church with the exception of Afghanistan.  There were over 1.5 million Adventists in the region in 2010; more members than the LDS Church had in any nation outside the United States at the time.  Jehovah's Witnesses reported 33,000 active members meeting in 435 congregations in 2010.  The LDS Church has more members than Jehovah's Witnesses only in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  During the 2000s, the LDS Church experienced annual membership growth rates comparable to Seventh Day Adventists and higher than Jehovah's Witnesses.  The number of Southern Baptist congregations among some interior peoples of India almost doubled every year between 1993 and 2000, with over 1,000 new churches were organized among one interior Indian people in 2000 alone.[35]  Gospel For Asia (GFA), a Protestant missionary group started by native Indian K. P. Yohannan in 1980, represents the most remarkable model of international missionary recruitment.  GFA fielded over 11,000 native missionaries from India in the early 2000s and plans to reach 100,000 missionaries by 2020. GFA organizes over six new congregations in India and South Asia each day, over twice as many as the LDS Church organizes in the entire world.[36]  Yohannan's book Revolution in World Missions expounds principles of native missionary recruitment and training.[37]  Most missionary-oriented Christians have no official presence in Afghanistan, Bhutan, and the Maldives due to government and societal restrictions, but have gained small numbers of converts in Afghanistan and Bhutan like the LDS Church but in greater numbers.  Other Christian groups provide significantly more humanitarian and development assistance, such as Seventh Day Adventists, than the LDS Church such as building schools. 

Future Prospects

The outlook for future LDS Church growth in South Asia is favorable due to increasing numbers of local members serving missions, high receptivity, moderate to high rates of member activity and convert retention, abundant opportunities for humanitarian and development work, and the high degree of self-sufficiency developed by local leadership.  A lack of LDS materials in local languages, civil unrest, negative societal attitudes on conversion to Christianity from traditional religions, no culturally-developed missionary approaches for Hindus and Muslims, low literacy rates, poverty, dependence on full-time missionaries to expand outreach, and ongoing government restrictions of religious freedom and missionary visas will continue to delay national outreach expansion throughout the region.  India and Pakistan will likely remain the centers of strength for the Church in the region for decades to come due to their large populations, moderate to rapid membership and congregational growth rates, and self-sufficient or nearly-self-sufficient missionary forces.  Additional congregations will likely be organized in the largest cities in both nations and in some currently-unreached cities within the next decade, particularly in southeastern India and in the Lahore area.  Additional stakes may be organized in Bangalore, Coimbatore, Islamabad, and New Delhi over the medium term.  There are no realistic prospects for an official LDS Church establishment among the indigenous population of Afghanistan, Bhutan, and the Maldives for the foreseeable future due to government and societal restrictions.  Mission outreach will likely expand into Bangladesh and Nepal within the coming decade in harmony with government regulations and local laws due to increasing numbers of convert baptisms and greater communication and mentoring from mission leaders.  The assignment of senior missionary couples Bangladesh and lesser-reached or unreached areas of India may provide an impetus for growth and expand national outreach.


[1]  "Background Note: Afghanistan," Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, 26 March 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5380.htm

[2]  "Bhutan," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127364.htm

[3]  "Corruption in Bangladesh," Transparency International - Bangladesh Chapter, retrieved 16 April 2011.  http://www.ti-bangladesh.org/docs/research/CorBang1.htm

[4]  "Issues," Transparency Maldives, 13 July 2008.  http://www.transparencymaldives.org/issues.html

[5]  "Afghanistan," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127362.htm

[6] http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127363.htm

[7] "Pakistan," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127370.htm

[8]  "Bhutan," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127364.htm

[9] "India," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127365.htm

[10] "Nepal," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127369.htm

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[33]  Stahle, Shaun. "Few, but faithful," LDS Church News, 22 September 2007. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/51061/Few-but-faithful.html

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[36]  Yohannan, K. P., "The 10 Major Ministries of Gospel for Asia," http://www.gfa.org/site/about_gfa/brochure/whatdoing.html.

[37]  Yohannan, K. P., Revolution in World Missions, Carrollton, TX: GFA Books, 2000. See also http://www.gfa.org.