Eminent members of the Parsi community, opposing a ban imposed by the Bombay Parsi Panchayet on two priests barring them from performing religious ceremonies, have told the Bombay High Court that this would lead to the “talibanisation” of the 60,000-member Panchayet of the Parsi Zoroastrian community in Mumbai.
In an ongoing face-off between the orthodox and liberal Parsi Zoroastrians, former municipal commissioner Jamsheed Kanga and Homi Khushrokhan had contested the ban imposed by the Bombay Parsi Panchayet (BPP) on priests Framroze Mirza and Khushroo Madon in June 2006 for allegedly performing unreligious ceremonies. In January 2010, a single judge of the Bombay High Court had refused to stay the ban.
The BPP banned the priests from Doongerwadi and fire temples at Godavara Agiary in Fort and the Godrej Baug Agiary at Malabar Hill, on the grounds that they prayed for the dead who were cremated; performed Navjote ceremonies of children of Parsi mothers and non-Parsi fathers and performed Zoroastrian rituals of a Parsi marrying a non-Parsi. The decision of the single judge is now being contested before a Division Bench of the HC.
An intervention application was later filed by several prominent Parsis, including legal luminary Tehmtan Andhyarujina, Dilnavaz Variava, wife of Justice Sam Variava, Dr Rustom Soonawalla, Anu Aga and Dr Keki Grant from Pune.
Representing the intervenors, senior counsel E P Bharucha told the court last Friday that reciting the prayers for Parsi Zoroastrians wanting to be cremated cannot be termed unreligious by the BPP as after the extinction of vultures at the Towers of Silence in Doongerwadi â€œcorpses take many months to decompose and lie rotting in the Dokhmas. As a result, many Parsi Zoroastrians are opting for alternative methods of disposal. â€œIf I die in the month of July I would not want my body to be lying in the rain to rot. I would want it to be cremated,â€? Bharucha said.
Bharucha also submitted, â€œthe fear (of the BPP) is racial and not religious. He cited a HC judgment of the early 1900s where the court had held that conversions in the religion should not be permitted as it would lead to the invasion of all pauper sweepers and dubras of Gujarat who would be attracted to the Trusts funds.
The intervenors submitted that the judgment has to be seen â€œin the context of this time. They contended that the BPP is seeking to implement â€œthis racist agendaâ€? by preventing the Navjote of children born of non-Parsi Zoroastrian fathers even if they do not claim any facility provided by the BPP.
The intervenors also cited the examples of industrialist Naville Wadia, born to Christian parents, whose navjote was performed by four high priests when he was 80 and also the navjote of JRD Tata’s French mother Suzanna. By not taking any action against these priests, the intervenors contended, the BPP is â€œconveying that a different course of action is always permissible for the rich and the powerful as opposed to the common Parsi Zoroastrian.
Arguing for the BPP, senior counsel R A Dada had argued before the Single Bench that religious issues cannot be dealt with by a civil court. He had denied that the BPP was just performing an administrative function. According to the Trust deed, the BPP also has a role to play in the religious functioning, he said.
The next hearing is scheduled for Friday, March 11.