Maharashtra State in India Grants Jews Minority Status
MUMBAI, India — Jews in the Indian state of Maharashtra were granted minority status this week, a decision that was celebrated by local Jewish leaders, though they said they were still trying to grasp the full range of benefits Jews might derive from the new status.
There are about 4,500 Jews among India’s population of more than 1.2 billion people, and about 3,000 of them live in Maharashtra, according to unofficial estimates by Judah Samuel, the president of the Shaare Rason Synagogue, who collected the data to submit to Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla.
The Indian Jewish Congress has also applied for minority status from the central government and is awaiting a decision.
After Mr. Samuel submitted the application for minority status in Maharashtra last year, Jews were granted formal recognition “exceptionally fast,” he said.
Solomon Sopher, president of the Indian Jewish Congress, who helped Mr. Samuel with the petition, said that the recognition should have been granted years earlier, when India’s government was led by the Indian National Congress party, but that officials at that time dragged their feet.
“The contribution of the Jews was no less than what the Parsees did for India,” Mr. Sopher said, referring to another religious minority. “So it was an important matter and the Congress government didn’t take it seriously.” Mr. Samuel added that he was pleased by how quickly the current government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, had acted on the request.
“The Jews feel very connected to India, which is our motherland, while Israel is our fatherland,” Mr. Samuel said. “Our loyalty also lies with India, this being the country that accepted us almost 2,500 years ago, and one of the only countries in the world which never persecuted the Jews in all these years.”
Minority status ensures that Jews are separately counted by the census, and it grants other benefits and concessions, though some Jewish leaders were not certain what they might be. “We at least feel that we are accepted officially by the government, and the main benefit is the observance of our High Holidays,” Mr. Sopher said.
Other Jewish leaders suggested that the state government would subsidize trips to Jerusalem; contribute to the maintenance of cemeteries and synagogues; provide scholarships for Jewish children; allow the reservation of seats for Jews applying to educational institutes run by their own community; and ease registrations of birth, deaths and marriages.
“We’re a very small community and we’ve never asked for anything special,” Mr. Samuel said. “But we’re elated with the new status.”