Ban on Priests: An Open Letter By Dinshaw Tamboly

Published herewith is a letter received from good friend of Parsi Khabar; and ex-BPP Trustee Mr. Dinshaw Tamboly.

 

July 14, 2014

Trustees,

Bombay Parsi Punchayet,

Mumbai.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Re: Ban on Priests

I have since some time now been following, what is uncouthly referred to in some community circles as “the renegade mobeds” case. I believe that the dignity of any human being is inviolable and it does no credit to those who use such insulting and offensive terms to describe others whose views and actions are not in sync with theirs.

From what I have understood so far, the Trustees, ostensibly on the advice from some of the community High Priests, passed a resolution banning two priests from performing ceremonies at two Agiarys of the Punchayat, as well as at the Doongerwadi. This was done for the reason that these two priests were known to be performing Navjote ceremonies for the children of mixed marriages.

This action by the Trustees was challenged in an Originating Summons Suit filed before a Single Judge of the Bombay High Court. The Learned Single Judge before whom the same was agitated found such summary proceedings taken out to be non maintainable, and the suit was dismissed for that reason. The original Plaintiffs filed an Appeal before the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court to challenge such a decision. After several hearings, the Hon’ble Division Bench ultimately allowed the Appeal, and struck down the impugned resolutions, holding that the Trustees of the Punchayat had no powers under the Trust Deed to issue such bans.

The Trustees have filed a Special Leave Petition before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India for leave to appeal against the Division Bench Judgment of the Bombay High Court. It appears that during the pendency of this Special Leave Petition, attempts have been made to settle the issue amicably out of Court, and for that purpose an expert Mediator was also appointed by the Supreme Court. I am informed that on several occasions, the Mediator has met with the Trustees and the original Plaintiffs both separately as well as jointly, to aid them in arriving at a solution acceptable to all. Whilst I find such attempts laudable, it was distressing to learn that the mediation proceedings had failed, and the matter is now back before the Supreme Court.

As a former Trustee of the Bombay Parsi Punchayat (November 1996 to September 2008), I am familiar with the workings of the Trust, the pressures it faces from within as well as from outside, as also the ultimate goal of charity and philanthropy.

I find it distressing that a matter of this nature, which I perceive to be related to the interpretation of the Trust Deed, and the powers of the Trustees there-under, has dragged on for so long and before so many Courts in the hierarchy of our great Judicial System. Although during my tenure as a Trustee, there was nowhere near as much litigation by or against the Trust as there has been in recent times, I am not unfamiliar with the litigation system. Being aware of the great costs involved in getting decent legal representation, I am sure that this ‘Ban on Priests’ case since its inception till date must have caused the trust to spend a great sum of money. Whilst I can only surmise the amount on the basis of past experience, you as present Trustees would be aware of the actual legal expenses incurred.

However I am sure that whatever be the actual figure, had it been spent on the actual objects of the Trust, it would have been enough to feed, shelter, clothe, medicate and educate several financially challenged members of our community.

I have no doubts that where third parties illegally try to usurp the funds and properties of the Trust, the best possible legal action must be taken and followed to its logical conclusion, but, in a matter such as that of the ‘Ban on Priests’, which in my opinion has been fuelled by the misplaced and misconceived religious beliefs and orthodox egos of some individuals, I find it a shame that vast sums of community funds have being expended, which should have been put to much better and fruitful use.

Ultimately, poor Parsi / Irani Zoroastrians are not going to be better equipped in life whether the two priests in question are allowed to, or disallowed from, performing ceremonies / offering prayers at BPP managed Agiaries or at the Doongerwadi.

BPP Trustees cannot justify their action by taking refuge under the premise that they acted as per direction of the High Priests, because the High Priests are known not to speak in unison, they themselves express views that are not compatible with those of one another, and in the not too distant past there has even been an instance where they had passed a ‘fatwa’ but then retracted when they realised it would not stand legal scrutiny.

Whilst on the High Priests, it will not be out of place to mention that the views expressed and actions taken by earlier High Priests have been at complete variance with the present day High Priests. Surely, religion, rites & rituals cannot keep on changing, depending on the views of individuals occupying the position of High Priests.

To give an example, on the issue for which two Priests have been banned, for performing Navjote ceremonies for the children of mixed marriages, if one were to refer to ‘History of The Bombay Parsi Punchayet’ (1860 to 1960) by Sapur F. Desai, page 13, it is clearly mentioned that Dastur Kekhushroo Jamaspasa (grandfather of our present day Dasturji Jamaspasa) performed the Navjote ceremonies on 26th June 1882 of 9 children born of Parsi fathers and non Parsi mothers.

Further, if you were to refer to ‘The Persian Rivayats’ of Hormazyar Framarz and others (Their version with introduction and notes by Ervad Bamanji Nusserwanji Dhabhar, M.A., published by The K. R. Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay, pages 275-277, dealing with ‘peaceful and forcible conversion’ it very clearly mentions "If they (a grave digger, a corpse burner and a darvand – one of a foreign faith) observe the rules of religion steadfastly and keep connection with the religion and if no harm comes on the Behdins, it is proper and allowable (that is conversion). It is also mentioned that if a Behedin turns darvand, he can be re-converted into our faith by performing certain ceremonies.

From the above two references, I do hope your good selves will realise the futility of the stand that BPP has taken.

You will all be aware that in a very recent judgment dated July 07, 2014, Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has ruled that fatwas have no legal standing or force and cannot be enforced using coercive method. If you all wish I can send a copy of the judgement.

As a former Trustee of BPP, I feel it my duty to counsel the present Trustees that:

a) The practices followed by earlier High Priests were quite different from those being sought to be imposed on the community by some of our present day High Priests.

b) The ban on priests is an ill-conceived idea, not supported by any legal authority which during the tenure of the earlier Boards would never have been resorted to. The present ruling of Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is indicative of how our justice delivery system views fatwas.

c) Funds should not be used for this purpose – it is not within the remit of the BPP to become self-appointed custodians of the faith. The main purpose of BPP is to look after the poor and needy and not waste precious funds on such matters.

d) The BPP Trustees should try to be more inclusive and keep the community together, not divide and cause friction within the community.

Keeping the above in mind, I sincerely hope your good selves will see reason and take all necessary steps to close this controversy once and for all at the earliest. No good will be achieved by continuing with this expensive litigation.

Kind regards,

Very Sincerely,

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Dinshaw K Tamboly

Off: Hermes House, C-3, 3rd floor, Mama Parmanand Marg, Opera House,, Mumbai 400 004. India.

Tel No. 91-22-23864451; 91-22-23864452; 91-22- 23864453.

Res: 803/A, Mistry Manor, Dr. B. Ambedkar Road, Dadar, Mumbai 400 014

Tel No. 91-22-24149838

Cell No: +91-98-200-50168; E-Mail: dinshawtamboly@gmail.com

 

 

 

Further to his open letter, Mr. Tamboly also sent us this update.

Dear Friends,

I have been inundated by messages supporting what I have written to the Trustees of BPP on the above subject.

Whilst  I appreciate their comments I think it will be best  if everyone also wrote directly to the Chairman and Trustees of the BPP conveying their views, as the majority of Trustees appear to believe they have the backing of the community for what they are doing.

For ready reference I enclose the e-mails of the Chairman and Trustees; those supporting what I have written may wish to send them their views on the subject, under advise to me to enable the present Trustees to gauge the mood of the community.

Dinshaw Mehta: dinshaw@dinshawmehta.com

Muncherji  Cama: mnc.samachar@gmail.com

Yazdi Desai: yazdi@writercorporation.co.in

Khojeste Mistree: zstudies@gmail.com ;

Arnavaz Mistry: arnavazjalmistry@gmail.com

Jimmy Mistry: jimmy@dellatecnica.com

Armaity Tirandaz: artirandaz@gmail.com

Warm regards,

Dinshaw K. Tamboly