32

I may have to travel to Bangalore, India for work at some point in the future. While there I may be traveling in other parts of India as well. In the past I have only traveled internationaly in places where I knew being recognizable as a Jew (i.e. wearing a kippa and tzitzit) would not be outright dangerous (such as Canada, Israel, etc.). If it is obvious that I am Jewish in India, am I likely to face extraordinary difficulties?

For the purpose of this question I am only asking about problems due to my Jewish appearance. I am not asking about difficulties with practicing Judaism (such as finding kosher food).

49

There have been Jews in India for 2500 years, and largely without experiencing anti-Semitism. Even if there was a sudden, historically unprecedented upswing in hostility or violence against Jews, it wouldn't affect you personally. While you may regard yourself as obviously Jewish, in a country with thousands of different ethnic and cultural groups, you would need something a lot more noticeable than a little yarmulke to stand out.

You will find it a little weird though, that almost every taxicab you get in will be decorated with swastikas. You can keep reminding yourself that the Nazis appropriated the ancient symbol of life and peace, but it only helps a little.

If you are in Hyderabad -- and feeling particular edgy -- you can drop by here for some shisha.

  • 18
    +1. It takes a while to get used to the Swastikas. And it's not just taxis. Buildings, books, temples, trucks, etc., they're everywhere. – Revetahw Oct 31 '16 at 22:21
  • 7
    @Fiksdal Well, it's a symbol of the Sun. Most religions took/take the Sun pretty seriously (Abrahamic religions are probably the most significant exception) - after all, it is the "prime giver of life on Earth" :) It would be nice if we stopped being so scared of symbols... – Luaan Nov 1 '16 at 9:03
  • 3
    It's worth noting that the "swastikas" in Hinduism are inverted when compared to a Nazi swastika. – DeepSpace Nov 1 '16 at 11:37
  • 10
    @DeepSpace This is actually not true. Check out the Wikipedia article on Swastikas and you'll notice that the Hindu and Nazi ones are both clockwise. The counterclockwise one is called a Sauwastika and is somewhat rare in Hinduism. It's more common in Buddhism. In either case, it's a beautiful symbol which has been abused, and it's quite sad really. – Revetahw Nov 1 '16 at 13:46
  • 5
    @MaskedMan -- Asia is a very big place. I have seen it at all angles, all colors, and both directions. Here is one in black. The only consistent rule I have found is if a swastika adorns the property of an insane murderous scumbag, it's probably (although not definitely) a Nazi swastika; otherwise it isn't. – Malvolio Nov 1 '16 at 17:56
34

Probably not. It seems very unlikely.

First of all, India is quite a multicultural society with hundreds of various creeds and lots of religions. There is a longstanding tradition of being tolerant to other religions.

Also, there is very little antisemitism in India, see the quote at the bottom of this answer.

Moreover, I don't think many people would notice and care that you are Jewish. I've met lots of Israelis in the Indian town I live in. My experience is that the local people mostly just regard them as Westerners, and not particularly as Jews. I personally think this would be the case even if they were to wear kippahs, etc. I know the local language, and the same words (Westerner, foreigner, white person) are used whether they are referring to an Israeli, Norwegian or Australian. This is also the case if they know the person is Jewish or Israeli. So, I don't think they even think of Jewish people as a group distinct enough for it to matter.

Of course, lots of Indians will recognize a kippah and other Jewish marks and know what they mean, etc. But the mentality here is just not one where people care about such things. It's such a diverse society already.

The common mentality here is to keep one's own religion and traditions to oneself and let others keep theirs.

I agree with Nikhil's comment that it would probably be somewhat unwise to walk around in a large-city Muslim neighborhood dressed in orthodox Jewish attire in the middle of the night. But that's a rather extreme example. Also, I think even that would probably be fine, though. The vast majority of Muslims in India are very polite, friendly and like to mind their own business. I don't think they'd even care if an orthodox Jew walked through their neighbourhood. To err on the side of caution, though, perhaps there are wiser ways to spend one's holiday. So, let's forget about the extreme example.

Large numbers of Israelis and other Jewish people travel as tourists in India every year. I'm not aware of even a single case of religiously or ethnically motivated harassment of Jewish travelers by Indians. (If it occurred, it was probably just because they were foreigners, not in particular because they were Jewish. But note that Westerners are also generally treated very well, so even that would not be a common or big problem.) Most Jewish people traveling in India probably don't wear kippahs or otherwise look obviously Jewish, but I don't imagine it would be a problem even if they did. To be honest, I think they'd be treated pretty much like other Westerners. (Respectfully.)

I personally know an elderly Russian Jewish man who visits India every year, and he always wears a special Jewish hat (I don't know exactly what it's called, only that it's not a kippah). I'm not aware that being Jewish has been a problem for him even a single time.

If you're worried about it, you can avoid discussing religion and politics while you're in India. However, I think even this would mostly be fine. As long as one doesn't go around invasively preaching or getting into theological or political arguments, it should be absolutely fine. I see India as a very religiously tolerant country.

Frankly, I'd be slightly more concerned if you were a Muslim (even though India has a large Muslim population), but even that would mostly be totally fine.

Source: Having lived and traveled in India for five years and talked to many Jewish and Israeli tourists and expatriates about their experiences here.

If you try to google "antisemitism India", you'll find nearly no contemporary examples. (And not much of signifigance historically either.) There's a 2010 article from the Jerusalem Post called 'We are not frightened, there is no anti-Semitism in India'. The background for that article was that there had been a bombing of a German bakery in Maharashtra and there was speculation that a Jewish religious center down the street might also have been a target. However, the article presented it as a mere possibility and not a fact.

Rachel Kupchik, the leader of the religious center, noted:

India is a country with absolutely no anti-Semitism. There never was, and there isn’t now. Unlike in some European countries, where you have to hide the fact that you’re Jewish, here in India being Jewish generates respect.

While we should generally be careful with blanket statements such as these, I think Kupchik's sentiment is mostly correct. And she is clearly in a position to know, as a long-time Jewish resident of India who interacts with other Jewish people in India on a regular basis. On a side-note, I'm also unsure of which European countries she's referring to, but she might have meant some isolated areas in some European cities.

  • 2
    "I'd be slightly more concerned if you were a Muslim" note that there have also been attacks by Muslims against Hindus, not just the other way around – JonathanReez Nov 1 '16 at 8:52
  • 3
    @niico The 2008 suspects were Pakistani. That doesn't make it irrelevant, though. This is not my statement, and I've added a warning against blanket statements below the quote, I'm not sure if you noticed. – Revetahw Nov 1 '16 at 13:02
  • 1
    @niico This answer recounts the experiences of a Jewish friend of mine who wears a Jewish hat in India. Also, Rachel Kupchik runs a Jewish group, so I'm pretty sure she knows what she's taking about. – Revetahw Nov 1 '16 at 13:05
  • 2
    @pnuts Exactly. There is so much diversity here and people simply don't care that much about such things. – Revetahw Nov 1 '16 at 13:21
  • 2
    @pnuts You say you don't remember seeing anyone Jewish but you "must have". I don't think this follows and it's a large assumption - especially when someone's safety is on the line. There aren't many Jews in India (or globally), even fewer with outward signs, so it's certainly possible you saw nobody who looks outwardly Jewish. Seeing people who look outwardly Jewish is very rare in all but a handful of specific places globally. Other religions mostly get on sure, but that may not be relevant to the OP. – niico Nov 1 '16 at 13:50
10

As someone who traveled to India before with identifiable Jews (I'm secular myself). Me and fellow travelers in my party have found Bangalore to not be risky for Jews. I've also talked to several travelers since and they confirmed this.

A more official source is the Israeli government's anti-terror office which issues travel warnings in Israel. It's in Hebrew but you can look at the map and see there are only travel warnings in Kashmir in India at the moment (I think Kashmir is a little marginal, and a little dangerous for Jewish travelers in my opinion based on anecdotal experience).

In fact, India is a very popular travel destination in Israel and many Israelis visit there at least once in their life.

That said, you should be careful in India and also read about the cultural differences between the western and Indian culture. It's a beautiful place with many kind people but I recommend reading about it and trying to understand the culture in India and south India in particular.

Bangalore itself is huge and if you stick to the "good parts" you'll be just fine - just be prepared for the cultural shock since India is very different from Israel or Canada.

  • 2
    @pnuts Even the Israeli government advice doesn't mention "Jewish" travelers specifically. It advises Israelis to be cautious in Kashmir. "Israeli" Includes Palestinian Muslims, atheists, Jews who have converted to other religions, etc. Anyway, I think it would probably be wise indeed for OP to be a bit careful in Kashmir if he's wearing a kippah, etc. – Revetahw Nov 1 '16 at 15:34
  • 1
    @pnuts To be completely fair - most people I know who went there (Kashmir is beautiful) encountered racism there based on being Jewish. I assumed the terror warning in the Israeli government advice was related to that but there is a good chance I might be wrong. I preferred to error on the safe side and not tarnish an area. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 1 '16 at 15:53
6

Absolutely not. India is very tolerant toward other religions. I myself have been there with my Jewish friend. There was this one kind old man who was having trouble carrying some sort of crate. My friend, Erik, rushed over to him and helped him out. The man was of Muslim faith, and he blessed Erik in a language I know: Hindi. Erik went all over the town helping people, Hindu and Muslim alike, and no matter what religion or culture they were, these people thanked him (even if they were in different ways). I even noticed that the daughter of one of these people Erik had helped actually liked Erik, as in fell in love with him. Unfortunately, Erik and I left a few weeks later, and the girl's heart must have been broken. My point is, nowadays you don't have to worry about being in danger because of your religion. I understand all this racism and extremist trouble, but every man/woman has the right to express his/her beliefs, and every country, including India, respects that. Any country who doesn't, ought to. In fact, the very idea of people having fears about travelling to places of vast quantities of people who are not of same religion/beliefs as themselves is disturbing to me. No offense intended, @Daniel. Just make sure you don't get weirded out by symbols that other cultures stole from Hindi and Sanskrit, such as the Swastika symbol. The swastika symbol itself has a very good meaning, but the Nazis changed a beautiful symbol of love and peace to a dark, terrible symbol of hatred and despise. Good luck with India. Just a tip, it's extremely crowded there.

  • 5
    "I understand all this racism and extremist trouble, but every man/woman has the right to express his/her beliefs, and every country, including India, respects that. Any country who doesn't, ought to." The first part of that statement is not true and the second part doesn't help avoid uncomfortable or dangerous situations. – Daniel Nov 1 '16 at 22:13
-3

hmm.... all of the experiences are anecdotal so please pick and choose as you feel. Also lot of it is 'old' so things may have changed on ground per-se. About half-a-decade back or slightly more I was in Himachal, Garwhal and Uttarakhand and they had been 'invaded' for about half a decade or more by Israeli young people. Heck, why just there, even Varanasi which is part of Uttar Pradesh became half-jewish. By this I mean, almost all the restaurants had signs of Judaism. Just do a search for 'Hebrew signs in Himachal Pradesh' or 'Hebrew signs in Uttarakhand' or anywhere in North and South and you will hit quite a few links. So you can be rest assured that you will have a pleasant experience.

In fact, what has been seen at times is sort of 'reverse discrimination'. There was a girl who had become my friend while travelling. Once I was invited to their religious place where the jewish monk said about polluting blood and things like that, which I thought was rude. That's the way though the cookie crumbles :(

  • This answer does not seem to add much to existing answers and is not clear in my view. – Willeke Feb 10 '17 at 20:58
-4

See this link -> Are Jews safe in India

Jews have only been persecuted by Muslims and Christians because of their existence disproves their claim to be true followers of Abraham. Other religions - Hindus, Buddhists don't bother about jews faith. Most of Hindus, Buddhists don't even know anything about Jews and their faith. For most of Indians, All other country people are just foreigners irrespective of their countries.

  • 6
    There are 140m Muslims in India. The third highest Muslim population in any country. – niico Nov 1 '16 at 12:55
  • 2
    Come on. Linking to quora then spewing some random (quite radical imho) opinion? This is a VLQ answer. – Tomáš Zato Nov 1 '16 at 14:31
-6

As with any travel - exercise precautions you would at home, don't walk down dark alleys (literally and proverbially). Speak to local Jews if possible, ask advice in your hotel in advance and when on the ground, if a situation feels wrong, listen to your gut.

Undoubtedly, choosing to mark yourself out as Jewish is likely to put you at a slightly higher risk anywhere you go in the world - and in a country with 140m Muslims - a religion whose book contains explicit hatred towards Jews, as we know - eg from the Koran:

"7:166 Jews are apes"

"4:160 Jews do evil"

"9:29 Fight and subjugate the Jews"

...the risk in India is likely to be slightly higher still.

I have visited Bangalore and whilst it is mainly Hindu there is a significant population of Muslims.

The key question is what is more important to you - keeping your outwardly Jewish identity intact whilst in India and being at slightly higher risk. Or lowering that risk by keeping a lower profile?

Personally, I think there is no shame in the latter, but only you can answer this question.

EDIT My personal experience in Bangalore was that people were friendly if curious - including Muslims. I saw no obvious discrimination against Jews (or others) - but also remember seeing nobody openly dressed as a Jew.

If I had to guess I would say the risk of trouble was low, but not non-existent.

  • 4
    Offensive comment thread removed, which got out of hand. Please keep all comments civil, and take discussions to the Travel Chat. – Mark Mayo Nov 1 '16 at 9:40
  • For future visitors, the non-offensive comments are still available in chat. – Revetahw Nov 5 '16 at 18:15
  • Honesty is more important than not giving offense - if we are perpetually scared to offend and therefore omit the truth - western civilization is doomed to fail. Truth is more important than anything else - we must be able to freely discuss important topics. – niico Dec 21 '17 at 0:37

protected by RoflcoptrException Nov 4 '16 at 12:49

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.