Sweta Singh (New Delhi): In the Search of History and Identity: The Malabari or Black Jewish Community of India

Since ancient times, commercial opportunities along the Indian Ocean trade route led to settlement of Jewish traders, who belonged to various places across Mediterranean and Red Sea regions. Apart from these early settlers, it was 16th century onwards that a diaspora from European countries settled in Malabar region in the background of inquisition and expulsion. These European migrants or self-proclaimed ›White Jews‹ (on the basis of their skin colour), also known as Paradesi (meaning foreigner) Jews silenced the presence and lineage of Jews who were already settled there, and introduced caste and class hierarchies within the Jewish community and portrayed a superior image over Malabari or Native Jews calling them descendants of slaves and servants, which served against the basic ethos of the concept of Judaism. Another layer of silence is found in the letters exchanged among Jewish merchants between 10th -13th century which negates the history of the serving class. Conjugal and matrimonial relationships of Jewish merchants with their slaves, servants and local women led to a flourishing Jewish diaspora on the Malabar Coast. However, when it comes to identity-building, this very association is rejected by both the Malabari and Paradesi Jews. Thus this work proposes to re write the history of Malabari Jews. Within this battle of identity and existence between Black vs White Jews, this work will also address the removal of the legacy of the serving class under Jewish community, who played a major role in the process of diaspora building on the western coast of India.