Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Highlights of FPZAI Meeting in Mumbai in February 2012

Below is a report of the recent Federation of Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India meeting held in Mumbai on February 11 and 12, 2012. This report is written by Mr. Marzban Giara and was sent out via email, and was also published in two installments in the Jame Jamshed weekly newspaper

The Federation of Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India held a meeting of the Executive Council and annual general meeting on 11th and 12th February 2012 at the Banaji Atash Behram Hall in Mumbai. The anjumans represented were Ankleshwar, Bardoli, Bhagwa, Bharuch, Bhatha, Bhesan, Billimora, Chikhli, Daman-Vapi, Davier, Dumas, Gandevi, Godhra, Illav, Karanj, Khergam, Kutch, Mahuva, Mandvi-Mangrol, Navsari, Pardi, Rajkot, Saronda. Surat Parsi Punchayet, Surat Panchayat Trust Funds, Tavdi, Udwada Sodfalia Behdin Anjuman, Vadodara, Valsad, Vansda, Vesu, Vyara from West Zone B;

Belgaum, Madras and Vizag from South Zone; Bhopal, Cawnpore, Chhatisgarh, Jabalpur, Jhansi, Mhow and Ratlam from North Zone; Abu Road, Badnera, Borivali, Dahanu, Deolali-Nasik, Irani Zoroastrian Anjuman, Panchgani, Poona, Satara, Solapur, Thana and Zai Bordi. The Parsi press was represented by Mr. and Mrs. Jehangir Patel a nd Parinaz Gandhi of Parsiana, Shernaaz Engineer and Marzban Giara from Jame Jamshed and Mr. Hanoz Mistry from The Parsi Voice.

Membership Mr. Khojeste Mistree, Hon. Secretary, FPZAI said: “All the five anjumans Shri Surat Parsi Anjuman Punchayat, Bhagwa, Bhatha, Bhesan and Karanj had resigned from the Federation in 2009 and asked for their cheques to be returned and the cheques were returned. I was kept in the dark and only 72 hours before the meeting I was informed that under instructions from the BPP chairman, the BPP office issued receipts for subscription to these anjumans without following the prescribed procedure and bypassing the honorary secretary solely in order to garner votes at the time of election. The chairman accused WAPIZ of ‘hounding out’ these 5 anjumans. Mr. Mistree explained that these anjumans are managed by the family of Mrs. Roshan Mody who is very aged and her daughter Mrs. Pervin Sohail Jariwalla (nee Mody) is married to a Muslim. The cheques were returned with a covering letter signed by the executive secretary of the Federation, a decision to which all the trustees including the chairman was a party. He submitted that now a game of political upmanship is being played. In response the chairman added: “At that time I was married to WAPIZ in 2009, now I am divorced.”

Udwada Behdin Anjuman also sent a letter dated 30th January 2012 and paid arrears of fees for 33 years by cash just a few days ago. The rubber stamp on the letter is of Udwada Sodfalia Behdin Anjuman.” Letters from both the High Priests of Udwada were read out saying that Udwada Athornan and Udwada Samast Anjuman had never joined the Federation nor are they interested in joining the Federation. The letters of both the High Priests categorically state that Udwada gaam in all matters is represented by Udwada Samast Anjuman which includes both athornans and behdins. Attention of the house was drawn that falia in Gujarati means a street. Sodfalia is a street in Udwada. If Udwada Sodfalia Behdin Anjuman is allowed to become a member of the Federation, it would throw open a pandora’s box and any and every colony or baug association in Mumbai would lay claim to become a member of FPZAI. Moreover any one tomorrow might make a computer printed letterhead and claim to be representing an anjuman.

Does the FPZAI constitution permit more than one anjuman in the same town/village or city to represent it in the Federation? In the past when a duly authorised representative of Surat Nanpura Parsi Zarthosti Anjuman wanted to speak, an objection was raised by Surat Parsi Punchayat that SPP alone represents the Parsis of Surat at the Federation and that representative from Surat Nanpura Parsi Zarthosti Anjuman was neither allowed to speak nor vote. (Nanpura is a locality in Surat and has its own anjuman). There was no response on this point. Is the FPZAI a public garden where one can walk in and walk out and when one feels like? We leave it to the good sense of our readers to judge.

Many delegates including Dadi Dalal of Madras, Adi Engineer representing Cawnpore, Mancher Mubarakai of Dahanu, Pervin Jehangir of Illav remarked that it was improper to receive fees at the last minute and that proper procedure has not been followed. Tannaz Parakh pleaded with the chairman: “not to throw the rule book out of the window”. She respectfully submitted that under Rule 10 “The President of the Federation shall preside at, conduct and regulate all meetings of the Federation, the Executive Council and his ruling on any point of order and decision as to the result of voting shall be final and conclusive.” Despite several delegates questioning and protesting the casual manner in which these anjumans were allowed to rejoin, the chairman claimed that he was exercising his ruling under Rule 10. He even asked the delegates to get out if they were not happy with his ruling that these six anjumans were members and continued to be members even though they had not paid fees or remained absent. Several delegates protested that the chairman cannot behave like a dictator and what authority he has to ask the anjuman representatives to get out.

Godhra and Chhatisgarh anjumans were enrolled as new members.

Election of office bearers:

After three hours of acrimonious arguments it was declared that a compromise is reached and there would be no election for Vice President West Zone B. Mr. Darayes Master would serve as Vice-President for the first year and Mr. Areez Khambatta for the second year respectively. For other posts there was only one nomination for each post and were filled up uncontested. Mr.Mancher Mubarakai, Vice President, West Zone A; Mr. Kerfegar Antia, Vice President, South Zone; Mr. Tehemton Anklesaria, Vice President, North Zone. The Zonal representatives are West Zone A – Borivali and Nagpur, West Zone B – Nargol and Billimora, North Zone has five zonal representatives Indore, Ajmer, Jhansi and Mhow; South Zone – Belgaum. No representatives of anjumans of East Zone were present. Mr. Khojeste P. Mistree and Mr. Pervez B. Mehta will continue as Jt. Hon. Secretaries and Mr. Yazdi Desai as Hon. Treasurer. Mrs. Arnavaz Mistry will continue as Executive Secretary of FPZAI.

5 Coopted members are Mr. Farokh Rustomji and Farokh Irani from West Zone A; Mr. Pervez Mehta of Bardoli and Percy Buhariwalla of Vyara from West Zone B, Mr. Cyrus Mancherji of Mhow from North Zone.

Mr. Sarosh J. Maneckshaw, guest speaker presented a very insightful talk on Transformation and Loss of Parsi Identity. “Our identity is what binds us, differentiates us from others. We Parsis have a unique identity. 1. Religion. 2. Ethnicity. 3. Culture and traditions. From Achaemenian times Zoroastrianism has been an ethnic religion for over 3000 years. Even after our first migration and arrival in India we remained a non-proselytising community with strong emphasis on ritual purity. In the 18th century we had the calendar controversy and one month’s difference in calendar between Kadmis and Shehenshahis but no change in religion or ethnicity. Religion remained unchanged and there were no inter-faith marriages. In 1787 BPP were given legal rights by the government. BPP outlawed bigamy and child marriages. Since 1836 BPP went into decline. BPP lost its moral authority. The influence of western education led to religious reforms but ethnicity remained unchanged.”

“The second migration to North America was between 1960 and 1990. Currently 20 % of the Parsis live in North America. They have rapidly abandoned their ritual traditions. Many have stopped wearing sudreh and kusti. The Jafariyan movement started in 1990. It advocates prosetylisation and conversion. Religion has been dichotomized between Parsis and neo-Zoroastrians. Ethnicity is being lost. The word “PARSI” is not mentioned in FEZANA Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America which is promoting a neo Zoroastrian identity which is ignorant about religion. We Parsis are going through a crisis of self esteem. The Parsi identity will disappear in North America in two generations. There are now three groups – the Parsis from India, Zarthoshtis from Iran and neo-Zarthoshtis or converts. FEZANA is moving towards a Zoroasatrian identity and away from the Parsi identity. We are losing our Parsipanu.”

When asked about his recommendations he suggested to have more of religious classes for children.

Global Working Group BPP trustee Mr. Jimmy Mistry and chairman Mr. Dinshaw Mehta, advocated a dialogue and get together on a common platform, exchange of views and interaction between representatives of elected regional bodies FPZAI, FEZANA, ZTFE, Iran and other associations e.g. Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Pakistan. 40% of the Parsis are abroad i.e. outside India. He specifically mentioned that WZO has been kept out as it is not a Federation. This prompted Anahita Desai to question: “This GWG does not define who is a Parsi? It accepts a Zoroastrian as any one who professes the Zoroastrian faith. Both WZO and FEZANA have changed their constitution wherein they admit even non-Zoroastrian spouses as members with equal rights including the right to vote and to become office bearers. How is such a body going to protect and enhance the interest of Parsi/Irani Zoroastrians worldwide?”

Tannaz Parakh expressed apprehensions about this GWG. It was previously labelled CTRT Coming Together Round Table and had its meetings in Dubai in 2009, in Mumbai January 2011 and in London in October 2011. She informed all the delegates that there is a structure where all the regions will have one vote. This information was not disclosed by those who advocated joining GWG. FEZANA does not use the word “Parsi”. GWG will represent all the Zoroastrians of the world including converts. “Is the BPP not compromising yits own position as the apex body of Parsis the world over?” she questioned. Jimmy Mistry explained that coming together is only for social, cultural and economic issues and not religious issues. Mr. Hushang Vakil explained the background of the Cosmopolitan World Body. “GWG is new wine in an old bottle. Mr. Arzan Wadia on his website Parsi Khabar promotes Ali Jaffarey, a born Muslim. BPP is compromising its supremacy as the apex body where each of the regions will have one vote in the proposed GWG” he cautioned. BPP Trustee Mr. Khojeste Mistree warned: “We are giving a sense of power to associations in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand. Mr. Sarosh Maneckshaw yesterday in his presentation told us how Parsi identity is lost in FEZANA. The previous experience of the cosmopolitan world body shows that there is a hidden agenda of further weakening the Parsi identity. In North America conversion rate is high for political reasons. Non Zoroastrians want to become Zoroastrians. Do networking but do not agree to form a structure. For exchange programs, exchange must be between Parsi/Irani youths only and not just Zoroastrian youths or children of converts.”

Muncherji Cama when asked for his views said: “It is nice to socially interact but whom are we to exchange with? How are we going to police who is a Parsi or who is a neo Zoroastrian (read convert)?.” Zarwan Patvi, a youth from Surat remarked: “First teach Parsipanu to Parsis in India, then try to teach Parsipanu to those in other parts of the world. Remove the darkness of religious ignorance in our own community. The Gathas or Avesta have not changed in the 18th,19th or 20th century. Nor will it change in the 21st century.” he added confidently. He was cheered with a round of applause. Mrs. Pervin Jehangir: “There is no harm in talking but we do not need to join them. One does not have to become a Christian or a Britisher to talk to an Englishman. Before FPZAI makes any commitment it must first get the consent of all its member anjumans.” Muncherji Cama again interjected: “Talk but in no way should it be understood that FPZAI accepts Zoroastrians who are not Parsis.” Murzban Wadia read a verse in Gujarati composed by a poet Rustom Noshirwan Master alias Aadil: Who is a true Parsi/Irani Zarthosti? Jarthosti te kharo jena dilma pak dinni masti chhe, Jathosti te kharo jene kammare sadro kusti chhe. Several delegates demanded that this GWG item be never placed on the agenda of FPZAI again. Others felt that Parsis in India should not be isolated from those around the world. Still others felt that we have survived only because we have retained our identity as Parsi Zoroastrians. Had we intermarried or converted we would have ceased to exist as a distinct community.

Reports of anjumans

Billimora anjuman is willing to help any anjuman who needs funds for their agiary or dokhma.

Poona – 69 acres of land has been fenced by Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla. 232 flats allotted at Lullanagar for poor and needy Parsis.

Irani Zoroastrian Anjuman disbursed over 40 lakh rupees towards education, medical aid, poverty relief. Merwan Irani, President of IZA who fought for Tithal sanatorium right upto Supreme Court and won the case has entrusted the land to Valsad Parsi Anjuman. Mr. Pervez Irani suggested that government is giving forest land to NGOs for growing bawal at a nominal rent for a period of 30 years. He suggested that cultivation of bawal be taken up to ensure supply of kathi to our places of worship.

Surat Parsi Punchayet provided 109 housing units to Parsi families. Nariman Home and Infirmary is run by the Punchayet and now it has a well equipped physiotherapy centre. SPP has planted 7000 bawal trees on dokhma lands. Rs.14,88,000 were given for poverty relief, education and medical aid.

Thana has 1100 Parsis, a 232 year old agiary and 312 year old dokhma.

Murzban Wadia, President, Davier Anjuman informed that there is a dokhma in Gowada village managed jointly by Dahanu, Davier and Zai Bordi anjumans. Mr. Boman Irani who runs an old age home in Dahanu has planted bawal trees and made a nice garden there.

Khushman Tamboli of Rajkot suggested a list of Parsi lawyers willing to give guidance to anjumans be made with their tel. nos. and e-mail addresses. He also suggested that WZCC could help to develop land resources of various anjumans. Rajkot dadgah is open from 7.30 a.m. to 10.30 a.m.

Vyara has a dadgah, dharamshala, dokhma and a community hall. Anjumans were requested to get their land records updated with the government.

Mr. Tehemton Anklesaria, Vice President, North Zone arranged a two day trip to Udwada in which 60 Parsis ranging in age from 12 years to 85 years participated. Mhow anjuman has given custodianship to FPZAI in 1995. Lucknow, Chhatisgarh and Godhra have approached the Federation for custodianship. He requested defunct anjumans (those having a Parsi population of less than 50 Parsis) to entrust custodianship to FPZAI.

Mr. Khojeste Mistree, BPP Trustee informed that 222 babies were born over the past five years due to the success of Fertility Assistance Scheme of the BPP under Dr. Anahita Pundole.

BPP gives incentive for 2nd child of Rs.3,000 per month till the child reaches the age of 18. BPP gives incentive of Rs.5,000/- per month for 3rd and 4th child born after 1st January 2012 till that child reaches the age of 18.

Holiday Program for Youth HPY celebrated its 25th anniversary. FOZYA President Shavir Irani informed about the All India Zoroastrian Youth Congress organised along with ZYNG in which 220 boys and 220 girls participated. Mr. Farokh Rustomji gave an overview of World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce(WZCC) activities. WZCC along with ZYNG organized a successful networking session in which there were 75 participants. Zoroastrian Youth for Next Generation was started as a social platform in December 2009. It has 4000 members ranging between ages of 16 to 40 years. It has organised 50 events over the past two years. Three successful speed datings have been organised resulting in some marriages and also children.

BPP Trustee Mrs.Armaity Tirandaz highlighted the need for space/building in Mumbai for starting a centre for care of children with special needs.

BPP Trustee Mrs.Arnavaz Mistry informed about the activities of BPP matrimonial bureau which provides a platform for Parsi youths to meet and find marriage partners within the community. Monthly meetings have been organised over the past two years. 466 youngsters have been enrolled of which 324 are boys and 142 are girls. Intimation about matrimonial meets is sent by e-mail to those registered. Mr. Jimmy Mistry very kindly provides the premises as also arranges for music and snacks for the meetings. This year two picnics were organised. A talk by Ervad Dr. Ramiyar P. Karanjia on importance of marriage in Zoroastrian religion was organised.

Poverty Amelioration Scheme

Contribution of Rs.6 lakhs each was received from Mr. Areez Khambatta and the BPP. 79 Parsis were given aid totalling Rs.7,45,085 between January 2010 and March 2012.

Mr. Jimmy Gadiwalla catered for lunch and snacks for both days. Farhad Cooper of SAMSONS provided sound system and did video recording. The next meeting of FPZAI Executive Council will be held at Jabalpur in the last quarter of 2012.