An incident last week at an agiary (Parsi fire temple) in Andheri has restarted a debate in the community about bias against women who marry non-Zoroastrians.
While there is a deep divide among orthodox and liberal Parsis over whether a distinction should be made between men and women whose spouses are not from their community, Mumbai’s agiaries have generally not discriminated against the women. In Mumbai, most fire temples do not bar entry to women whose husbands are not from the community, unless they have converted to their spouse’s religion. The city’s nearly four dozen fire temples have allowed women to worship, though there are restrictions on taking their kids inside.
But many liberal Parsis saw the Andheri incident as an attempt to change the status quo. The Andheri fire temple barred a television actor from entering the premises to take part in the memorial prayer services for her recently deceased father. The actor has recently separated from her husband, also an actor. She was not allowed to take part in the ceremonies while her brother, who is also a television personality, and the rest of the family were allowed in.
Vispy Wadia of the group Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism (ARZ) said that fire temples in Mumbai usually did not make a distinction between men and women married to non-Zoroastrians. “So, this incident has come as a shock,” said Wadia.
The actor who was not allowed to take part in her father’s funeral rites did not make an issue of the incident. But according to members of the Association of Inter-Married Zoroastrians (AIMZ), a group largely representing women married to non-Zoroastrians, she has a legal recourse. “It is difficult for a person who has lost someone to take up cudgels. But if she has not converted to her husband’s religion and has married under the special marriage act, she can take legal action against the agiary. We have taken opinion and the legal point is very clear,” said Khurshid Narang of AIMZ.
But other members of the community have a different view. Dinshaw Mehta, chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, the community largest apex body and the caretaker and manager of many of their religious institutions said that every trust has a right to make its own rules.
“Even the Doongerwadi (Towers of Silence cemetery) allows women married to non-Zoroastrians to be interred there if she has not converted to another religion and her relatives say that she was a practicing Zoroastrian. Every agiary has its own trust deed and depending on the objects of the trust, the fire temple can make its own rules,” said Mehta