Keeping the Fire Alive in Chennai

Jal-Phiroj-Clubwala Pearl (name changed) is married to a non-Parsi, as a result of which her child has not been baptised as Pars. This is the case of several Parsi women married to non-Parsis in the city. This could be a reason to worry since there is already a fear that the community may become extinct in the coming centuries.

By Janani Sampath | Express News Service

There are about 120 Parsi families in the city and like in other cities across India, they are a miniscule segment.

Pearl’s predicament is palpable and possibly speaks for many Parsi women going through a similar situation. She explains, “I am not a religious person and I believe being a good person is far more important than the religion. Honestly, my child not being allowed to enter the Fire Temple or denied baptism doesn’t affect me. But, I do think it is sad that this is the case with many Parsi women who have married non-Parsis. As such, we are

a small population and our numbers have declined.”

In March 2012, the Gujarat High Court had ruled that a Parsi woman married to a non-Parsi ceases to be a Parsi. The judgment was passed following an appeal by a Parsi woman married to a Punjabi, who contended that since she was a practising Zoroastrian, she shouldn’t be barred from performing the rituals and customs of the religion.

Interestingly, in cities like Delhi, Jamshedpur and Mumbai, where there are close to 50 Fire Temples, a few do allow the children of non-Parsi fathers with practising Parsi mothers to be accepted in the community fold after performing the required navjot (baptism ceremony).

However, in Chennai, there is just one Fire Temple for the families that reside here. Dinyar, (name changed), who is married to a non-Parsi, explains, “Not being accepted in the community is a misnomer. My wife is a non-Parsi and it is entirely up to me to decide if I have to raise my children as  Parsi or not. Similarly it is up to a Parsi woman married outside the community to decide the same. She can choose to take the child to Surat or any other place where the Fire Temple permits conducting baptism ceremonies, in such cases. Here we have just one Fire Temple, may be there will be another one in 10 years down the line and that will allow the practice,” he says.

Zarin Mistry, secretary, Parsi Association, Chennai, makes an interesting observation that points to the less numbers of the community. “Parents cannot expect the generation to marry a Parsi by just meeting the prospective over a cup of coffee or watching a movie together,” she says.

(Names have been changed on request)