By: Surinder Jain
Hindus have been the most tolerant and accepting of people fleeing their homelands ever since people started fleeing their homes. Jews (also know as Yehudi) and Parsis (Zoroastrians) stand out in history. But India today, is also home to many Tibetan, Afghans, Africans and many other ethnic and religious minorities from al over the world. There are many suburbs in Delhi where you find more foreign refugees than locals. Local Hindus and every other Indian accepts them as a part of their family. India.
A very less known fact in Jewish history is the fact that India is the only country and Hindus are one community in the world where Jews have always been safe. The first dispersal of Jews happened with the destruction of their temple over 2,000 years ago and many Jews came to Chera dynasty kingdom on the ship of King Solomon. These Jews are known as Malabari Jews as they settled on the southern coast of India called Malabar coast.
They are also called Black Jews perhaps due to the evolution and adaptation of their skin colour to survive in hot temperate coastal climate of Kerala. Many evolutionary biologist believe that it takes not too many generations for any skin colour to adapt to black skin colour in temperate climate. They also say that black skinned humans turn to white skin in a cold climate. As an aside, they also predict that human race when it settles on the planet Mars will evolve into pink skin humans to survive harsh Martian radiation.
Coming back to Jews, a second wave of Jew migrants came as refugees about 500 years ago to escape prosecution from Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions. These Jews were granted land to settle by a Hindu Chera king Bhaskar Ravi Varma who also granted them tax concessions and religious freedom. These Jews were white skinned and are known in India as Pardesi (foreign) Jews or White Jews as opposed to indigenous or Black Jews who had arrived 1500 years earlier. They established their own suburb on the land grant which even to this day is known as Jew Town in Kochi.
These white Jews as they preferred to call themselves built India’s oldest Jewish synagogue (temple) called Kochangadi Synagogue in the year 1334. The temple stands and is in use by the remaining Jews. Another Synagogue of Jews which is in regular use can be found in the north western city of Ahmadabad.
Most younger Jews, after the founding of Israel, leave India for Israel. Many more are now calling, like other Indians, USA and UK as their new home. The number of Jews are dwindling fast in India and they may but remain in the history books of India one day. But as celebrated author Salman Rushdie has predicted this day in his novel The Moor’s Last Sigh, parts of which are based in Kochi. It is “an extinction to be mourned; not an extermination, such as (it) occurred elsewhere,” Rushdie wrote, in reference to the warm reception Jews got in Kochi, compared to the hostility they faced in many other places. It is, he added, “the end, nevertheless, of a story that took two thousand years to tell”.
India has another minority called Parsis (which means ‘Persian‘ in the Persian language) are a Zoroastrian community who migrated to the Indian subcontinent from Persia during the Muslim conquest of Persia of CE 636–651; one of two such groups (the other being Iranis). According to the Qissa-i Sanjan, Parsis migrated from Greater Iran to Gujarat, where they were given refuge, and given granted permission to stay by the local ruler, Jadi Rana between the 8th and 10th century CE. Parsi legends regarding their ancestors’ migration to India depict a beleaguered band of religious refugees escaping the new rule post the Muslim conquests in order to preserve their ancient faith.
Today Parsis consider themselves as much Indian as any Hindu of the land. Although there are only about 60,000 Parsis in India, the community is free to practice their religion and business. The numbers of Parsis are declining due to low fertility rate linked to inbreeding. Indian government has setup a Ministry dedicated to increasing Parsi population and subsidizes test tube conception.
India is also home to Dalai Lama, a Tibetan in exile in India. After the annexation of Tibet by the Chinese communist forces, Buddhist monks were being butchered. A large number of Tibetan Buddhists along with their leader Dalai Lama fled to India. India, now a Hindu majority secular republic, welcomed them with open arms.
Tibetan refuge in India has three stages. The first stage was in 1959 following the 14th Dalai Lama‘s escape to Dharamshala in India, in fear of persecution from the People’s Liberation Army. The second stage occurred in the 1980s, when China partially opened Tibet to foreigners. The third stage began in 1996 and continues today although with less frequency. (Hinducouncil)