Did you know that Bai Avabai Petit Girls’ School, an elite Bandra institution, was once an orphanage for destitute Parsi children? Or
that JB Petit High School for Girls was not a Parsi institution to begin with, but was rescued by a Parsi gentleman when it was in dire straits and on the verge of being merged with the Cathedral and John Connon School?
That’s what Rashna Poncha, a history teacher at Sophia College, said during a seminar on the contribution of Parsis to education in western India in the 19th and 20th century, at the KR Cama Oriental Institute on Saturday.
“In 1909, a Parsi lady called Hamabai Framji Petit sold all her jewellery for Rs 12 lakh to set up the Bai Avabai Framji Petit Parsi Girls Orphanage/High School,” said Poncha, adding that it was only in the 1950s that the school turned cosmopolitan.
Incidentally, a lady called Homai Engineer, who grew up at the Avabai Petit orphanage 90 years ago, has two great-grand-daughters, Zaayish and Aafreen, who are from a middle-class Bandra family, and now go to the same school.
“While some Parsi institutions started out only for Parsis, they are now open to all communities and have greatly contributed to nation building,” says Dr Nawaz Mody, former head of Mumbai University’s politics department.
“JB Petit High School, though, did not begin as a Parsi institution. It was set up by an Englishwoman — Mary Prescott. Nineteenth century businessman Premchand Roychand contributed Rs 50,000, on the condition that the school be open to all Indian girls, while the then governor of Mumbai, Sir Bartle Frere, contributed the land for the school, free of cost,” says Poncha. The school was called the Frere Fletcher School.
It was only in 1915, when the school ran out of funds and was going to be amalgamated with Cathedral Girls School, which catered only to Britishers, that Jehangirji Bomanji Petit appealed to the high court against the move and since Roychand wanted the school to remain open to all communities. The court decided against the amalgamation and Petit provided the school with financial aid. After Petit’s death, it was named after him.
While there remain a number coveted Parsi institutions in the city, the seminar discussed the dwindling number of Parsi children in Parsi schools.
For instance, at the RFD Panday Girl’s High School, which lies within a Parsi colony at Tardeo, only 35 of the 1,000 students from the school are Parsis. “Earlier, we had 300 to 400 Parsi children in our school,” says its former principal, Silloo Commissariat. Ironically, while the school charges around Rs 13,000 a year for students from other communities, it’s free for Parsis.
The decline may be a result of the dwindling number within the community. “Every decade, the number of Parsis in India has dropped by 10,000. According to the 2001 census, there are only 69,601 Parsis left in India, of which only 9% are between the ages of six and 14,” says Armaity Desai, former chairperson of the University Grants Commission.
According to Desai, Parsi trusts need to look at innovative ways of reaching out to Parsi children, even if they’re not in an institution meant for the community. For instance, Desai feels they could fund Parsi students’ education in the institution of their choice, and even funding their fee at coaching classes.
Original article here.