Inspirational Woman: Dr. Shernaz Cama


September 7, 2016

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Dr. Shernaz Cama needs no introduction. Over the years she has done amazing work that has enhanced the community’s standing in the society and helped highlight and preserve the glorious history and traditions for the future generations. Dr. Cama is also a friend and mentor to Parsi Khabar and we cant be more thrilled to point you to this wonderful interview by Ashish Bhardwaj of We Are The City. At the end of the interview are some links that further highlight the work done by the institutions that Dr. Shernaz Cama heads or helps run.

While each of these achievements below is singularly superlative, there are two that we think will far outlive Dr. Cama. The first is the Zoroastrian Return To Roots Program. Parsi Khabar has been involved with it since inception and we have had the privilege of working with Dr. Cama who is one of the co-chairs, the other being Aban Marker-Kabraji. The program brings young Zoroastrians from the diaspora back to their roots in India and soon Iran. The impact of those visits will have lasting impression on the youth who visit India.

However her singular biggest impact we feel is her tireless efforts to convince the Indian Government to set up the Jiyo Parsi scheme that has helped in the birth of over 80 young children. The number is only going to grow higher and it is through these children that Dr. Cama’s legacy and dreams will far outlive all of us in the decades to come.


Ashish Bhardwaj writes…

Dr-Shernaz-CamaDr. Shernaz Cama did her BA (Hons.) from Madras University and her MA, MPhil and PhD from the University of Delhi.

During the course of her PhD researches on Blake and Zoroastrianism, she worked at the British Museum and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London under the guidance of Prof. Mary Boyce and Dr. Kathleen Raine. She has been teaching at Delhi University since 1983.

She writes for academic journals and magazines and has been a Resource Person for the Centre for Professional Development in Higher Education, giving lectures at various Universities under this scheme. In 2003 she has co-authored the book Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge. She has also guided senior scholars in research projects.

From 2006-09, Dr. Cama was the Representative of the Govt. of India for the Navroze Candidature File for the UNESCO award of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Navroze was declared the International Festival of Spring and an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009 and acknowledged by the UN General Assembly in the same year.

Dr. Cama has also been awarded the UNESCO Power of Creativity award for the revival of Parsi embroidery. The community has honoured her with the Mancherji Edaljee Joshi Memorial Trust “Outstanding Contribution Award” and the Federation of Zoroastrian Anjumans of India “Mazda Education Foundation Award” for Education, Research, Science and Technology.

Tell us about yourself, your background and what you do currently

I have had the dual advantage of a traditional upbringing in Ahmedabad, at my ancestral home, as well as living across the country with my father, who was in the Indian Army. Therefore I see myself as a pan Indian Parsi.

I have been teaching at Delhi University since 1983 and was requested to start the UNESCO Parsi Zoroastrian Project 302 IND 4070 in 1999. This was the time when UNESCO realized the danger of the sharp demographic decline of the Parsis of India and wanted to try and record this ancient culture.

Tell us about any current projects or initiatives you wish to promote

There are several projects in UNESCO Parzor related to:

1. Setting up a Chair in Zoroastrian Studies at Symbiosis, Pune.

2. Setting up a permanent Museum on the Parsi Zoroastrians.

3. Creating awareness of India’s multicultural diversity, which is our true treasure.

What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?

As I work full time at Delhi University and as well as with Parzor in an honorary capacity, the biggest challenge is finding the time to give my total attention to both. I love my teaching and will not allow any distraction during college time. Hence my day starts very early and goes on for very long. It is difficult to sustain such hard work.

What has been your greatest achievement personally?

Getting the Government of India to agree both to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, MOMA, Jiyo Parsi Scheme for protecting the numbers and the Everlasting Flame International Programme, 2016 to promote the culture of the Zoroastrians would be amongst my achievements. Discovering William Blake’s relationship with the Zoroastrian world and his signed sketches of Persepolis, is my special academic achievement. Making my neighbourhood protect community dogs is my most enjoyable personal achievement.

If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?

I would be teaching and writing both poetry and prose.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My father the late Lt. Gen. Adi Sethna, Padma Bhushan, PVSM, AVSM who was an all round figure. He loved literature, music, gardening and re invented himself from being one of India’s Senior most Army Officers to becoming a community leader for the Parsis as well as protecting Minority Rights across India.

What does the future hold for you?

I hope that India and Iran can work more closely and that the Zoroastrians of these two countries as well as those in Central Asia can come together to keep this heritage alive. Personally I look forward to becoming hopefully a grandparent and enjoying having babies around again!