Is it time for an international Zarathushti referendum?


June 12, 2010

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For the last 50 years, at the least, a debate is raging within our Community, between The orthodox and the reformist lobbies, leading to nowhere.

By B.T. DASTUR / The Bombay Samachar

Zoroastrianism, Reforms & Referendum

The bad blood between the two lobbies reached its peak at the time of the last BPP Elections in 2009, when one particular Trustee was illegitimately maligned for reasons known to the writer (s).

The orthodox element thinks that they have the sole right to mandate about religious practices and rituals. That lobby includes some learned and some semi-learned Dasturs, and others who are totally illiterate in our scriptures, but feign to have a profound knowledge of our religious lore and practices.

As it stands today, Wapiz claims that it is a mouthpiece of the Community, because two of its Trustees were elected to the BPPs Board for 2009. Nothing is farther from the truth.

The reformist lobby is numerically larger, more balanced but, certainly, less or little organized. Therefor, the orthodox tom-tom is believed to be the voice of the majority.

I think that a time has come when an International Referendum needs to be held on some basic, burning issues which face our great but shrinking Community. In such a Referendum, we have to take into account the major concentrations of Parsis in the U.S., Canada and Britain-apart from Iran and Pakistan.

We should also take into account the views of microscopic sections of our Community in Singapore, Hong kong, Australia and New Zealand.

In order that a fair Referendum is held, there should be representatives from India, the U.S., Canada and Britain, and one Regional representative each from East Asia and Australia/New Zealand. It can be conducted under the auspices of BPP/WZO/FEZANA & ZTFE.

The issues to be focused on, very seriously, should be:-

* The status of out-married Parsi women and children and bring them on par with that of out-married Parsi men.

* To resolve the absurd situation of post-funerary rights being not performed for the first 4 days, after a Parsi is dead, as the family has chosen to consign him/her to a different mode of disposal (from the 5th day onwards the ceremonies are performed. How absurd!)

* The BPP must be compelled to lift its unwarranted ban on the priests who perform ceremonies of those consigned to a place other than Towers of Silence, and for those who marry out.

Nowhere in our scriptures it suggests that men can marry out and women cannot. It is a bogey created by the Davar-Beamon judgement, which is in an urgent need to be upturned.

I trust that your columnists will come out with other practicable suggestions to undertake this Referendum.



    I do believe that in absence of a consistent policy from the clergy the best way out of the current confusion would be to hold a referendum as suggested by Dastur. As for the a particular Trustee being maligned, though such vicious propaganda was unjustified, this particular individual [Trustee] is known for changing his colours far too frequently.
    Elections to BPP can not be termed as a referendum because some individuals who have got elected as Trustees have close family members who are inter married.Even the off springs of a “High” priest are inter married.
    At the moment, Referendum may be restricted to India based Parsees and be confined to two issues of post funerary rights and absurd ban on Priests.The situation for admitting children of Parsee females into Zoro fold is a bit ticklish and can be considered later.

  2. Dara Darabshaw Aria

    Yes, we must have one common body/platform where we can discuss the burning issues. No one body should tell us what to do & what not to do. Here I refer to BPP/WAPIZ. No more Fatwas.

    Therefore, I agree, we must have an International Zarthosti Referendum.

  3. Maya Putois

    Yes, it is high time we found a unifying spirit in our small but remarkable community. Before the referendum, I suggest all readers be objectively updated on legal cases and the evolution of our religion that has led to these decisions to exclude Parsi women (and their children) from the religion.
    There are two reasons for this exclusion: ONE: fear that the funds and property owned by Parsis (the PP) will have to be distributed to too many. TWO: a Parsi and pan-Indian desire to feel one belongs to a superior group, to look whiter, taller etc. Some of us seem to be suffering from post-colonial schizophrenia and it is time we looked to our strengths (hard-work, integrity, universal service…) and overcome this serious negative particularity in our society: a litigious and divisive mindset. Another forward-moving suggestion: we still have some successful Parsis who are, in my humble opinion, unquestionably forward-looking, egalitarian, open and ‘good Zoroastrians’: the Godrejes, Keki Gharda, Anu Aga, Ronnie Screwvalla, Jehangir Patel, the Katgaras, Fali Nariman, J. Marker, Rustom (sir) Jeejiboy, S. Taraporewalla, to name only a few. Why don’t we ask them to come to a conference and speak their minds? After all, isn’t it because of them, that we can still be proud to be Parsis in the first place? The squabbling and bad blood (and the power games around the Parsi Panchayat) caused by fear of losing money and prestige is what makes us bawis and bawas hang our heads in shame. Wouldn’t you say that to deem oneself a superior race in today’s world is an anachronism and rather backward? There is so much to be done today, in our city, Bombay and in country, India, to whom we owe everything. I’ve heard so many Parsis reiterate the state of India today, corruption, lack of proper infrastructure, governance and accountability. So? To paraphrase and modify slightly what Gandhi said to the first of the Godrejes, ‘What are we doing about it?’. There’s our countrymen and women and children to be educated, and made more autonomous through micro-finance, there’s infrastructure…, hoteliers need to be taught the laws of basic hygiene, so that our economy can benefit from tourism, there’s our history and heritage to be save from the city’s money-minded bureaucrats… we are spoilt for choice!
    Surely, instead of squabbling amongst ourselves, we Parsis, with our track record in service for the community could roll up our sleeves, and once more in history, set an example in this field?

  4. Homiyar Bilimoria

    This is a very good idea, when our religion (and the community) has virtually come to a standstill with never ending debates continuing between the orthodox and the reformist lobbies.

    After the last election, BPP has assumed the role of the “Big Brother” and thinks that they have the sole right or a mandate on religious practices and rituals. BPP forgets that their main function is to look after the welfare of the Zoroastrian/Parsi community of Mumbai, which is today lacking. Whereas, with the recent inclusion of the orthodox trustees on its board, they have assumed that they have the right to “safeguard” the Zoroastrian religion, by enforcing their views on the do’s and don’ts and that too by using force, as was witnessed in certain recent episodes and debated over using this media.

    If one has to initiate a global referendum, then it should be conducted by an international body like WZO, who have branches in all major countries having Zoroastrian population. Since BPP has a vested interest (with orthodox trustees on its board), it should not be part of an organization initiating a referendum in a fair manner, as suggested by the author.

  5. a.rustomjee

    I do not think that there exists a divide between the Orthodox and the Reformists. No doubt there are some extremists elements who have hijacked our Religion but they are in a minority though having large mouths. The large sections of our Community are middle of the road, peace loving, rational and down to earth members who have been forced to follow irrational practices created by bigots as mentioned by Dastur.The sure outcome of Adult Franchise has been the emergence of hooliganism and what guarantee there is that such bully elements will not prevent a free and a fair Referendum?
    And lastly what will be the element of enforceability of the outcome of such a Referendum?
    After the BPP Elections, some extremists elements are considering its outcome as a referendum, which is not so. It is like a crooked politician stating that he has been declared ‘innocent’ in peoples Court.

  6. Diniar

    I fully agree with you keep it up ….

  7. Marnosh

    Mr.dastoor How on earth can minority have a huge share of vote for deciding for us Parsis which is in majority 90% in INDIA? How can WZO be a part in it when FPZAI has outright rejected its validity. WZO does not represent any sentiments of the parsis living side by side in India.

    All the issues that you mentioned are the issue which are mainly framed in INDIA, then how absurd would it be to have a someone alien from alien country to decide about it.

    Already people in other parts of the world are not abiding by the rules set of parsis, I repeat PARSIS, so what is the need for them to fake a vote? In fact they are already sinning conversions at large. Let atleast parsis in India live in peace.

    You are talking about referendum, which in this country has been already long done, hope you remember 2009 ele.

    Its not about who says what, But I personally feel that no matter what a person wishes to do personally, but one should not disturb what others are doing as per their culture, mainly in majority.

  8. Rohinton Bhathena

    The biggest point should be to define Zorastrianism and why a man or a woman not born to Parsi mother or father cannot embrace the same.

  9. JC

    i agree that if a major proportion of the community is willing to accept men who have married out, then the same acceptance should be given to women who have married out. I dont agree that marriage outside the community is a way to maintain or increase our numbers.

    A way to carry this and any other public opinion polls would be:
    1. Develop a zarthusti-parsi global site.
    2. Seek voluntary registration on the basis of 5 simple fields:
    i) Full Name ii) Age iii) City of Residence iv) Country of residence v) email address
    3. Get backing of country / city zarthushti organizations; they would be responsible for putting in a one-time phone call or personal visit to verify user registration in their city or country. This would not be a big task as our numbers are low.
    4. Once a person is registered and verified, they are allowed to vote on any this or any other referendum posted on the website.
    5. Develop rules related to referendums and interpretation of results.

    The only downside of this is that it would take some months to develop a user base, but this is possible if the local organizations support it. In small countries like Singapore, all the users could be registered and verified in a weeks time. In medium countries like Pakistan it would take a month, in India, it could take several months.

    There would be limited privacy concerns as you are not asking for any confidential info at the time of registration and also not asking for any physical contact details such as address or phone number. The verification bit would be conducted from local directories or personal knowledge of phone numbers.

  10. Cyrus Kavarana

    It is inconceivable that the so called enlightened, progressive and illutrous parsi community still exhibit primitive ways of thinking in this modern age and time. In a highly integrated world where people of different cultures and religious backgrounds meet and interact, mixed marriages cannot be considered out of place and such persons cannot be condemned or treated as outcasts from our religion. Why should such persons or their offsprings not be allowed to practice the Zoroastrian religion, if they so desire? Can any priest or so called orthodox Zoroastrian show with proof that such a dictat does exist within our holy sciptures? The answer is “absolutely not” because no other religion existed for many centuries after the Zoroastrian religion spread in and around Iran during that time. Therefore, it is evident that the present orthodox views being imposed by some in our society today is completely without reason or sound understanding of the basic concept itself. My only message to such persons is to please stop this meaningless crusade as this will not only decimate the Zoroastrian or the Parsi population but will also kill the great religion itself!

  11. Piloo.

    I share your thoughts but to expect eminent persons to speak out their minds in public is not a feasible idea. You probably were not present when a U.S. based Dastur was invited to India, to speak on what he termed as ‘acceptance’. A section of the so called educated and peace loving community behaved in such a shameful way that no decent individual would ever venture to speak on a public forum. Ironically, it was sight to see a person who has since become a High priest being taken away out of the Auditorium by men in uniform.
    A section of the community can not display the decency of listening to a point of view, to which one may or may not agree. No body compelled these “traditionalist’ to attend this meet but their aim was to disrupt and wanted their ‘ideology’ to prevail.
    Some persons who pride themselves in calling themselves ‘Orthodox’ dislike the thinking and educated elite and want to rule the simple minded by brainwashing and food packets.

  12. farzana

    One expects Orthodox /Traditionalist to follow Gatha, as they are the only words of Zarathushtra …Instead they insist on latter obscure scriptures like Vendidad, that contradicts Gathas in number of places, or cook up imaginative rivayats as per their convenience,… yet they have audacity to call themselves Traditionalist.

  13. Rashna

    Blogger Marnosh plays the same old worn out discordant tune hinting at Elections for managing trust properties as if it was a referendum. To all such persons I ask one question.
    If the electorate of Bihar was educated and the the state not a BIMARU one, would persons like Lallus ever get elected?

  14. kersi

    Type your comment here…two wrongs donot make right.

    Hence the same rule should be applied for men. We should goby what is as per the religion and not by court ruling or referendum. our religion is very clear on this matter. no kind of adjustment is needed if we want to mantain our identity.

  15. Zarathustra Zarthosti

    Amazing thought !!!
    Referendum a must.
    Parsi are famous for being HONEST & FAIR unfortunatly not any more let me Quote lines from Rabindranth Tagore’s, the famous Indian poet and philosopher, in his book
    The Religion of Man,

    “The consciousness of God transcends the limitation of race and gathers together all human beings within one spiritual circle of union. Zarathushtra was the first prophet who emancipated religion from exclusive narrowness of tribal God of a chosen people and offered it to the universal man. This is a great fact in the history of religion.”

    also, If the philosophy of Fravashi teaches us anything, it teaches us that no human being is superior or inferior in the eyes of God. The real question is not whether we observe all our socio-religious customs (which can change or lapse with the passage of time) but whether we really and truly believe in what Prophet Zarathushtra preached. We face light of one kind or another whilst praying. In the symbol of LIGHT, Zarathushtra’s message comes out loud and clear. Every being has light within him or her and that light is the same in all.


  16. Zerxes.Dordi

    Right to participate in such a Referendum, if at all it is allowed to take place must be only for Parsee Zoroastrians born from BOTH Parsee Parents.

  17. Zarathushtra Zarthosti

    People in the whole world (except in India) are living in peace on the said matter at least they do not go on with beating a bat on the dead snake. Infact in most countries Conversion is indeed well accepted (, unfortunatly due to the bad mouthing by some hypocrates people avoid the topic in public. Their silience on it is presume to be like a slave’s but deep in their heart they know that the unfair pratice between men and women is totally wrong in the eyes of Zathustra.
    Friends please wake up say something …..


  18. farzana

    What is a Parsee Zoroastrian ? ‘Parsi’ is an ethnicity denoting Persians, and ‘Zoroastrianism’ is an universal religion open to all who want to embrace it. They are not interlinked nor do they have anything to do with each other. All Parsis are not Zoroastrians and all Zoroastrians may not necessarily be Parsis.

  19. Adarbahman

    Who should be allowed and who shouldn’t be, should be based on our holy scriptures.
    All those who have commited Doode Vehan-vasovashi -[SIN OF THE SOUL] by divorcing their partner, are to be considered outside the fold.
    Rathesthar, AGP,Firoze Adaz and Ervad BEHRAM DHABHAR will surely agree with me. Right?

  20. Dorab.

    According to you who should be allowed to vote and who shouldn’t be, should be based on our holy scriptures.Fine,but can holy scrpitures asceratin and decide on the eligibility.?
    To that extent, Dordi is correct Why I say this is that Referendum is for Religious issues and not for mundane things.
    As for so called Orthodox, how about debarring persons from contesting for trusteeship for any communal Trust organisation if any close family member of the candidate is married out of the community or is NOT married. This will discorage persons remaining single.Close family member would mean, son -daughter, sister -brother.
    By the way, my full name is Dorab.Unwalla.I do not hide behind alphabets and pseudonyms and justify it by claiming to be ‘mahan’