Open Parsi dokhmas to kin, says protesting workers’ union

The Mumbai Mazdoor Sabha, representing the Bombay Parsi Punchayet’s (BPP) 220 Class IV workers, has asked the trust to allow relatives of the deceased into the roofless towers where dead bodies are placed so community members can see the deplorable conditions in which the pallbearers are forced to work.

Article by Nergish Sunavala | Times of India

Concerned Parsis, who have volunteered their services in the event of a pallbearers’ strike, should ask the BPP to let them enter the towers and “see the sorry plight of their dead ones”, suggested the union’s general secretary Dhunji Naterwalla in a written statement on Friday. “Why should the BPP maintain such secrecy about the dokhmas?”

The Times of India reported on Friday that about 25 members of the community are willing to double up as corpse bearers if an agitation by the BPP’s sweepers, gardeners and 18 pallbearers culminates in a strike. The peaceful protest for higher wages and benefits, which began last week, quickly morphed into a protracted struggle with the union rejecting the BPP’s 7% counter proposal to their 50-65% wage hike demands. The Parsi pallbearers or khandias striking work remains the union’s most potent threat, which is why they are now appealing to the volunteers’ to desist from siding with the BPP and frustrating the workers’ “legal and justified cause”.

Zoroastrians dispose their dead by exposing a corpse to the elements in a roofless tower (dokhma). In the past, khandias have complained the solar panels in the dokhmas allow the body to putrefy over many days – a matter, which is hotly contested by orthodox sections of the community. In places outside Mumbai where the Parsi population is extremely small and the dokhmas are used less frequently, relatives do enter the towers. Without directly responding to the union’s suggestion, BPP trustee Yazdi Desai said, “Have they seen what a rotting corpse looks like in a grave or what a half burnt corpse looks like if pulled out from a crematorium? The plight in the dokhmas is no better or no worse.”

The union also suggested the BPP negotiate before using strong-arm tactics. “We know how to bring them down to their knees,” wrote Naterwalla. “We are veterans in conducting strikes and taking what is lawfully ours.” However, Desai said the BPP would only negotiate if “this senseless and mindless agitation” is called off.