This article appeared in the TOI.
The controversy over acceptance of Parsis from mixed marriages into the Zoroastrian fold blew up on Saturday as the orthodox sections of the community disrupted and heckled a talk by Kersey Antia, a priest from the US who preaches freedom of choice for all those who want to accept the faith.
Orthodox Zoroastrians called up the management of the Y B Chavan Centre last week demanding that they withdraw permission for the talk. However, when their demands were not met, they registered a complaint against Antia at the Cuffe Parade police station stating that his speech would be inflammatory.
The controversy over the refusal to accept children from mixed marriages with Parsi mothers and non-Parsi fathers into Zoroastrianism has been raging in the community for the last two decades with strong stands for and against the move.
In fact, an hour before Antia made his speech, senior Parsi priests held a press conference at Colaba to repudiate the acceptance issue. Vada Dasturji Kaikhushroo M Jamasp Asa, Vada Dasturji Dr Peshotan H Mirza, Ervad Ramiyar P Karanjia, Ervad Rooyintan Peer and Ervad Parvez Bajan spoke out for the preservation of religion and race.
Nearly 2,000 Parsis, both young and old, turned up for Antia’s talk. Many of them, including senior citizens, had to squat in the aisles.
After the talk, hecklers shouted and railed at Antia, who was told by some in the audience that he was not a man of God and had no knowledge of the religion. After a talk in which Antia quoted stanzas from the Avesta (the holy book), which—according to him—spoke of freedom and tolerance, he was asked by some members in the audience whether the Prophet had made any mention of conversion or had spoken of allowing non-Parsis into the fold.
“After reciting the Ramayan, you’re asking me who Ram is,” joked Antia, who had claimed that the early stages of the Persian empire had witnessed conversion of people to Zoroastrianism. Antia had earlier raked up a controversy when, in 1983, he performed a Navjot ceremony initiating a non-Parsi, Joseph Peterson, into the faith.
Antia said orthodox Parsis waved the red flag at him in Mumbai but he was allowed to speak freely in Iran. “It’s unfortunate that a religion of truth and righteousness should today be beset with fundamentalist tendencies that fracture the community,” said Meher Rafat of the Association of Intermarried Zoroastrians (AIMZ) that organized Antia’s lecture with the Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism.
The orthodox, on the other hand, are holding a public meeting on February 15 to counter, what community member Pervin Mistry described as “misleading and false quotations” by Antia.