The dispute in the Parsi-Zoroastrian community over the bar on two priests accused of ‘irreligious’ activities has moved to the Supreme Court, which will hear an appeal later this month against the Bombay high court order that criticised the bar.
While a senior advocate from Mumbai will represent those who challenged the ban, a leading Delhi lawyer who is also a senior member in a political party has been reportedly engaged by those who support the bar.
The priests were barred from the Towers of Silence cemetery and two fire temples because they had conducted after-death prayers for community members who opted for non-traditional funerals and initiated children from mixed marriages, where the husband was not a Zoroastrian, into the religion.
The prominent Parsi-Zoroastrians who approached the high court against the ban argued that the community trust that barred the priests could not decide on religious issues — a contention supported by the court. But the trust said they were acting on instructions from the community’s high priests who favoured the ban. The six high priests — the highest ranking authorities in their religious hierarchy — have now made their views on the issue public.
In a statement written and signed by them recently, five of them — two from Mumbai and the others from Navsari, Surat and Udvada — have said that while they have the highest respect for the court, they had the historical and ecclesiastical right to guide the community in matters of religion. They said that their right to admonish, debar and expel priests, whose actions have caused a breakdown of the ancient religious practices, is at stake in the dispute.
They said that the writ of the community’s priests has never been challenged like this in the community’s millennium-long stay in the country. They said that the community and their premier trust were left ‘religiously vulnerable’ and helpless in protecting their religious institutions. This, they added, will have devastating consequences on the community.
“We can no more be secure in our belief that our way of life and our religious traditions and practices can be safeguarded,” they said. “We could be failing in our duty as high priests, if we turned a blind eye to such irreligious actions.”
The only high priest who has not signed the statement is known for his more liberal views on the subject.Even as the apex court has scheduled the hearings to the fourth week of April, debate continues in cyberspace. An online petition asking the BPP not to go to the Supreme Court has now attracted over 900 signatures, including the endorsement from a member of a leading industrial family. The petition has raced to the 13th position among those listed in the website.