The Bombay Parsi Punchayet got a shot in the arm on Thursday with the Bombay high court declining to stay its ban on two priests from performing religious Zoroastrian ceremonies at Doongerwadi and two fire temples.
Two prominent Parsis in Mumbai Jamsheed Kanga and Homi Khushrokhan said they were taken aback by a June 2009 decision of the Punchayet to prevent “two renegade priests Framroze Mirza and Khushroo Madon’’ from performing religious ceremonies at Doongerwadi and also in two fire temples controlled by the Punchayet—Godavara Agiary in Fort and the Godrej Baug Agiary at Napean Sea Road. One of the BPP trustees Khojeste Mistree had alleged that the two priests perform “unreligious ceremonies like praying for the dead who are cremated—a practice forbidden in the community, Navjote on children of non-Parsi fathers and solemnising a marriage between a Zoroastrian and a non-Zoroastrian.’’
Justice V M Kanade, while refusing to stay the BPP decision, gave the Trust four weeks time to file its reply. Kanga’s lawyers Iqbag Chagla, Freddie De’vitre and Jimmy Avasia questioned whether the Punchayet had the power to issue such a ban on ordained priests and asked the court to stay the June resolution. The BPP has a purely administrative role to play, Chagla said.
But the Punchayet, represented by lawyers Rafiq Dada and Percy Ghandy, argued that the plea against the Punchayet was not maintainable. The request by Kanga and Khushrokhan must be dismissed as it involves religious issues that cannot be gone into by a civil court which has power to decide only on civil rights, argued Dada.
The Trust counsel denied that the BPP was just performing an administrative function. According to the Trust deed, the Punchayet also has a role to play in the religious functioning and the three premises are inextricably related to religious activities, Dada pointed out.
The BPP said it was also acting on the advice of the community’s high priests. The community, for the last 300 years, has had five high priests—who are men of high scholastic standing. But Chagla said there was no such thing as “high priest or low priest’’ . All priests were of equal standing, he said.
But the Punchayet also questioned why were these two Parsis, who were not even priests, contesting the ban. Kanga and Khushrokhan said they were the beneficiaries of the community and thus had a right to challenge the decision of the Punchayet. The BPP also said that there was a “gross delay’’ in raising the challenge.
Mirza, it turns out, was one of the candidates who lost in the 2008 elections to the Parsi Punchayet. He describes himself as a “reformist’’ Zoroastrian and performing Navjote on non-Parsi children was among his poll claims. But the 60,000-strong Mumbai Parsi community had collectively backed the majority orthodox Panel.