There are some ambiguous references to Christianity in India (and possibly Pakistan) in the 4th cent., but the earliest clear testimony is the assertion of Cosmas Indicopleustes that there were Christians in India before 550. For the history of the Thomas Christians, see Malabar Christians.
W. Christianity was brought to India by the Portuguese in 1498. Attempts to evangelize the inhabitants of the country as a whole date from the arrival of the Jesuits in 1542. Under the padroado (or royal patronage) grants of the Pope, Portugal claimed the right to nominate all bishops and missionaries in the East. It became clear that Portugal could not fulfil these obligations, and in 1637 the Propaganda in Rome consecrated a Brahman as Vicar Apostolic for the non-Portuguese regions of India. Though the policy of choosing Indians for the post lapsed, Vicars Apostolic were appointed in increasing numbers. In 1886 Leo XIII created a regular hierarchy for India and the future Pakistan.
From 1660 the English and later the Dutch were in the Indian subcontinent. They were mainly concerned with the spiritual care of their own people. Protestant missionary work began seriously in 1706, when King Frederick IV of Denmark founded a mission to work in his territory of Tranquebar in S. India. In 1793 the first English missionary, W. Carey, landed in Bengal. Since the East India Company opposed missionary activity, Carey established his mission in the Danish territory of Serampore. At the revision of the East India Company's charter in 1813, Evangelical opinion secured the insertion of provision for a bishopric of Calcutta and freedom for missionary enterprise. The CMS sent missionaries, and Anglican clergy came in large numbers. By the end of the 19th cent. there were also numerous missionaries from the USA and Continental Europe, and in the second half of the 19th cent. strenuous efforts were made to convert the aboriginal people. A native Indian ministry was formed through the ordination of those trained in their own language and with no knowledge of English; the first such ordination took place in 1850. In 1930 the Anglican Church in India, which had hitherto been a part of the C of E, acquired independence as the Church of India, Burma, and Ceylon (Pakistan was added to the title in 1947).
Co-operation among the non-RC Churches in India dates from 1855. A series of conferences led to the formation in 1908 of the South India United Church (Presbyterian and Congregational), the first trans-confessional union of modern times. Out of this grew the movement which led in 1947 to the formation of the Church of South India. A parallel movement led to the formation of the Churches of North India (1970) and of Pakistan (1970).
When the former British India became independent in 1947, the country was divided into the predominantly Hindu state of India and the mainly Muslim state of Pakistan, of which the eastern part became independent as Bangladesh in 1971. Religious liberty is written into the constitution of all three states, but conversions are discouraged and in India restrictions were soon placed on foreign missionaries. Nevertheless, after Islam, Christianity forms the second largest minority religion, with c.2.5 per cent of the population. In Pakistan there was originally less hostility towards missionaries from the Commonwealth, but since 1969 the government has exercised increasing control over Christian institutions, and Christians have felt their position threatened. They form c.1.5 per cent of the population.