With a new editor taking over Jam-e-Jamshed, the recently acquired reformist views of the 177-year-old Parsi weekly may be toned down
By Manoj R Nair / Mumbai Mirror
For the last few years, the 177-year-old newspaper had been the voice of what is the ‘reformist’ section of the community. The latest subject of debate in the Parsi-Zoroastrian community has been the ban on two priests from praying for the dead at the Towers of Silence.
These priests were restricted from the cemetery by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), the community’s apex representative body, for offering after-death prayers for members opting for non-traditional methods of funerals such as cremation and burial. The priests have also been accused of conducting Navjotes or initiation ceremonies of children with mixed parentage. A group of eminent Parsis has petitioned the Bombay High Court against the ban.
The Jam-e-Jamshed had always been critical of the ban on the priests. However, the latest edition of the paper featured articles written by orthodox priests supporting the ban. Community members said that many of them were taken by surprise at the change in the newspaper’s stance. The sudden shift in the editorial tone has been attributed to a change in the paper’s editorial leadership.
Jehangir Patel, Editor, Parsiana, a liberal weekly for the community, said, “There is bound to be a change, as the new editor is considered to have more orthodox views on community issues. Jam-e-Jamshed has always been orthodox in its views. It is only in the last decade that it had become liberal.”
Solicitor Berjis Desai, who also writes a weekly column on Parsi issues in Mumbai Samachar, another venerated community institution said, “The new editor is considered somewhat orthodox in their leanings. There will definitely be a change in the paper’s policy. One could already see the changes in the latest edition of the newspaper. The orthodox section has staged a coup of sorts by getting a person empathetic to their views to head the editorial.”
Jam-e-Jamshed’s new editor Shernaaz Engineer said that the paper had no editorial comment or article on the ban on the two priests. “However, a question recently arose – is there an established practice of “High Priests” among Parsis? A couple of readers responded via letters – which were the only letters received on the topic. To read politics into ‘Letters to the Editor’ is uncalled for. Jam-e-Jamshed will maintain a fair and balanced editorial policy,” Engineer said. “It is a 177-year-old newspaper. It has a long legacy. I would request the community elders not to turn it into a political battleground.”
During its nearly two-century-old existence, the Jam-e-Jamshed has seen changes in ownership and content. It was a daily, though now it only publishes weekly. The Gujarati-language paper now has an English section to cater to the new generation, most who do not read the community’s adopted language.
The publication is now owned by the Dubash family, believed to be liberal in their views on issues such as inter-community marriages. However, they are also not known to interfere with the editorial content of the paper.
During the 2008 polls to elect trustees to the BPP, the newspaper was a vociferous opponent of the orthodox group that eventually won the first election where all adult members could participate. While the reaction from its general readers to the sudden editorial shift has been that of surprise, orthodox leaders facing intense criticism from the newspaper are hoping for a respite.
Dinshaw Mehta, BPP Chairman said, “Jam-e-Jamshed had always been very orthodox in matters of religion. It had suddenly taken a U-turn and started propagating the reformist line. Hopefully, with the change in editorial leadership, the BPP-bashing will stop.”