Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Converting Ambedkar: The Chance that Parsis Missed

By Farrukh Dhondy

Being part of a minority has its advantages. I have been part of several. The minority status one achieves as, say, a record-breaking runner is different from that which one is born into. Being a Parsi in India and indeed in the world and as an Asian immigrant to Britain, minority status is second nature to me. I don’t revel in it.

Parsis have been completely accepted, having been Indians longer in India than the Normans, for instance, have been in Britain. Yet there persists a celebrated aloofness which we and our flatterers adopt which naturally contributes to the perception of us as a ‘minority’. Minorityism is a matter of natural numbers but it is also a mentality and in the case of the Parsis, a dogged one.

On the other minor front, being an immigrant in Britain used to pose problems: one would find it difficult to rent a room, get a job or use certain pubs. The fear and loathing were palpable in certain parts of town. All things of the past. Despite the whining of determined minorists about being singled out, the legal framework and the alterations in the broad social mindset don’t make one feel a ‘minority’ any more.


Britain has adopted the ‘multicultural’ formula of distinct but equal, recently adding the idea of being loyally and dutifully British. This, after some young men, educated, housed and mollycoddled at the British tax-payer’s expense, enjoying the British freedom of thought, speech and movement, have fallen into murderously abusing it. Under the ideological influence of preachers, who again reap the benefits of British hospitality, they have taken to abusing Britain, to making bombs and killing their innocent fellow-citizens. In India they would be called ‘namak haram’.

Their actions are those of people resolved to remain a minority and perpetuate a victim status.
In India a section of the Parsis remain a determined minority, albeit a self-consciously privileged one. Our numbers are dwindling and for a century and more there has been a great debate in the community about whether to accept the children of Parsi men by non-Parsi women into the fold. With the drift of Parsis to the USA and Canada, Parsi mothers with non-Parsi husbands have begun to ask the same question about their children. While patrilineal descent has been accepted by ‘liberal’ Parsis, women passing on the lineage has not. The community hasn’t caught up with the fact of 23 chromosomes from each gender. 

So it was with interest that I recently read about a great debate earlier this year between the traditionalists who want to lock and bar all entrances into the religion except that of the Parsi mother’s womb fertilised by a Parsi father and the ‘liberals’ who are for the conversion of true believers.

This debate is unlikely to be resolved in the near future. The salient fact I gathered from it was the assertion by a traditionalist priest called Rooyintan Peer that BR Ambedkar, the leader of the Dalits in the early 20th century, before he converted to Buddhism had applied to become a Zoroastrian. He was refused.

It may have been the greatest mistake that the Parsis, after taking on the Spartan 300 at Thermopylae, have ever made. The conversion of Ambedkar would have meant that millions of Dalits, instead of becoming Buddhists would have become Zoroastrians. This would have presumably included Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh and all her following. It could have meant that in the next parliament of India Zoroastrians would hold the controlling vote and would have transformed themselves from a minority into one of the
dynamos of India’s future.

I know what the muttering Parsis in Mumbai and Pune would have to say about it, but I would urge them to rethink. Could the country and the world have resisted the combination of old Parsi money, culture and dynamism and the new Dalit-Zoroastrian numbers and energies?   

The writer is a London-based scriptwriter

Original article here

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