The government of Gujarat, India’s most western state, has granted religious minority status to its tiny Jewish community, as reported in Times of India. The government’s decision was announced by the state’s Department of Social Justice and Empowerment.
“Gujarat has a small Jewish community with no more than 170 members, a majority of them in Ahmedabad,” said Aviv Divekar, secretary of Ahmedabad’s Magen Abraham Synagogue.
The Gujarat government, which stated that the Jewish community had made representation to it over potential receipt of minority status, granted the petition on July 6. “As religious minority members professing the faith of Judaism, they shall get the religious minority rights envisaged in the Constitution and various acts and rules of the state government.” It added, “they shall get benefits of welfare schemes formulated for religious minority communities within the jurisdiction of Gujarat.”
India, a Hindu-majority country with a population of more than 1.3 billion, has six official minority communities: Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis and Jains. The other states to have granted minority status to Jews are Maharashtra in west-central India and West Bengal, in eastern India, between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal and whose capital is Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).
According to the Jewish Agency, the Jewish population of India at the time of Israel’s Declaration of Independence was approximately 25,000. It is estimated that between 1948-1979, 24,000 Indian Jews moved to Israel and thousands more elsewhere.
Excluding the Bnei Menashe, there are thought to only be approximately 5,000 Jews remaining in India, with the large majority of those residing in Bombay (Mumbai). The Bnei Menashe, who have lived in India’s northeastern region along the border with Burma and Bangladesh since the time of the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE, are thought to number around 7,000-strong.