Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Much noise over names at Towers of Silence

goolrukh Bombay Parsi Panchayet declares that funerals of woman married outside community will not be allowed at towers.

After refusing permission to an inter-caste married Parsi woman to let her body be consigned to the Towers of Silence after her death because she had assumed a ‘Hindu’ name, the Bombay Parsi Panchayet (BPP) has declared that funerals of women married outside the community will not be allowed at the towers if they have adopted non-Zoroastrian names.

By Manoj R Nair / Mumbai Mirror

The resolution which was passed at a meeting two weeks ago will be applicable even if the women continue to be practising Zoroastrians.

On March 18, the board of the BPP, the community’s apex representative body, met to discuss an application made by Goolrookh Gupta who also uses her adopted name Neha.

The Napean Sea Road resident whose maiden name was Contractor wrote to BPP that manages the Towers of silence at Malabar Hill, after she was recently denied permission to enter a fire temple in Valsad, her home town in Gujarat.

Goolrookh who married a transport-firm owner Mahipal Gupta in 1991, has also filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Gujarat High Court asking the court to issue directions to a trust in Valsad to let her pray at their fire temple and also allow her to attend her parents’ last rites in future at the local Tower of Silence.

She said in her petition that though she married a non-Zoroastrian, she continued to follow her old faith.

The Valsad Trust has said that their rules do not allow women married outside the community to pray at fire temples or participate in funeral rituals of their parents.

Goolrookh claims that this restriction violated her constitutional rights to practice the religion of her choice. The petition will be heard again on April 28.

Goolrookh, 44, a mother of two, said she approached the BPP in Mumbai and the Gujarat court after a friend who married a non-Zoroastrian was denied entry to the Tower of Silence in Valsad when her mother died. In Mumbai, the BPP allows funerals of women married outside the community at the Towers of Silence if they continue to be Zoroastrians after marriage.

“Since the Mumbai trust has been liberal, I was not worried whether my funeral will take place at the Towers of Silence. But after the incidents in Valsad, I wanted to make sure there will not be a problem and decided to write to the BPP,” said Goolrookh. She added that the change in her name had nothing to do with her marriage. “I changed it before my wedding because Goolrookh was a difficult name to spell and pronounce,” she said.

BPP chairperson Dinshaw Mehta said, “We think that if a woman has changed her name on the eve of a marriage to a non-Zoroastrian, it is presumed that she has converted to the religion of her spouse. Unless there is a clarification that she has not converted to another religion, how do we know that she is still a practising Zoroastrian?”

But when told that Goolrookh had mentioned in the letter to the BPP that she followed her old religion.

Mehta said, “She has written back with this information. We will look into the matter again.”

Community members said the resolution was confusing because while Parsis in general use names that are of Persian origin, they have also adopted names from outside. For instance, Neville and Malcolm that are popular names in the community are of European origin. Others share names and surnames with groups from Gujarat. Jehangir Patel, editor of community weekly Parsiana said, “The resolution is absurd. My father’s name Ratan is also used by Hindus in Gujarat.”

Vispy Wadia of the group, Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism said that historically, Parsis used names that were common among Gujarati Hindus.

“During the British rule, many adopted names and surnames like Nicholson and Richardson. There is nothing like a Zoroastrian name.” said Wadia.