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June 22, 2016 2:59 am

Indian Jewish Community in Maharashtra Granted Minority Status, Providing Members With Choice Government Benefits

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Bnei Menashe community members praying in India. Photo: Screenshot / Dawn.com

Bnei Menashe community members praying in India. Photo: Screenshot / Dawn.com.

A proposal granting minority status to the Jewish community in the Indian state of Maharashtra was passed by the government on Tuesday, the Times of India reported.

According to a 2001 census, the number of Jews living in Maharashtra numbered 2,466 out of a total of 4,650 Jews throughout the entire country. With this new status, Jews in Maharashtra will be eligible for government benefits allocated for minorities, as well as being able to apply to educational institutions under a minority status.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis — who chaired the state cabinet meeting where the ruling was made — said, “This decision will benefit students from these communities to avail scholarships from the state government and setting up educational institutions.”

Should Maharashtran Jews be officially recognized as a minority, the report said, it would be easier for members of the community to register their marriages, set up educational institutions and practice and promote their culture.

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According to Jayashree Mukherjee, the principal secretary of the minority department, the state has no official census on the number of Jews who hail from Maharashtra.

“The Jews should have been given (minority status) long back, but somehow they weren’t given. The government has no official records of the number of people in the community as their population is too less. But according to them, their population in the state is 2,466,” she said.

Jews in India have long been a part of Indian society, with many tracing their ancestry to the lost tribe of Menashe. Members of this tribe — known as the Bnei Menashe — are believed to have settled in India some 2,300 years ago.

The Bnei Menashe say their oral history of 2,700 years describes their escape from slavery in Assyria following the destruction of the First Jewish Temple into Persia. From there, its members traveled through modern day Afghanistan, Tibet, Kaifeng and eventually to India.

Over the last several years, the Israeli government and the Shavei Israel organization — which seeks to reach out to members of lost tribes and hidden Jews and reconnect them with their Jewish heritage — have taken steps to bring thousands of Bnei Menashe to settle in Israel.

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