Parsis from Mumbai gather at agiary gates after SMS campaign
Never underestimate the power of people. That’s what the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) discovered on Saturday morning. About 1,400 residents of Bandra got together to stop the BMC demolishing the local Parsi Tata Agiary that has been standing proud on Hill Road for 122 years. The BMC wants to break it down to widen congested Hill Road.
Following an urgent SMS campaign, Parsis from all over the city and members of the Catholic Association gathered in front of the agiary. They collected over 1,400 signatures and shot off a letter to commissioner Johnny Joseph, asking him to stall the demolition. Later, they also went on a peace march to the BMC H-ward office. The BMC has assured that demolition will be put off for now, though no one knows for how long. Nothing has been given in writing to the residents.
The protests began eight months ago, with the first BMC notice that parts of the 154-year-old St Peter’s Church, the Stanislaus School and the porch of the agiary would be broken down. The porch is the place where Parsis wash their hands before entering the temple for prayers, and where non-Parsis offer prayers during their Uthamna ceremony after a funeral.
“Road widening is not going to solve our traffic problems,” says Sam Choksey, Joint Secretary of the Bandra Parsi Association. “It will only attract more encroachment. We need to get rid of hawkers on the road instead, and save our open spaces.”
The fire temple, built by Nusserwanji Tata in memory of wife Jivanbai in 1884, has been a part of the social, cultural and religious fabric of Parsis across the city. Roshan Dabhoiwala, in her 60s, whose family has been living in Bandra for the past 80 years, stood at the gates with her entire family on Saturday. She has been visiting the agiary since she was a child, and has fond memories of the place.
“Our family has been coming here for as long as I can remember,” she says. “We pray here on birthdays and New Years, and I came here after my wedding. I had to stand up and fight for it.” Adds Choksey: “We have not planned what to do next if the BMC still goes ahead with demolition. But we will always resort to peaceful protests to stop it.”