New Rules for Doongerwadi Funeral for Women

It will no longer be enough for Parsi-Zoroastrian women who are married to non-Parsis and want to be interred at the Towers of Silence to write an affidavit in their lifetime that they were practicing Zoroastrians.

By Manoj R Nair / DNA

In a resolution passed last month, the community’s apex body Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) said that families of the women will have to sign affidavits after their death, swearing that the women practiced their maiden religion till the end.

BPP trustees said that the resolution was necessary to clear the confusion over the old rule. “A woman married to a non-Parsi can file an affidavit in her lifetime saying that she practiced Zoroastrianism after her marriage and later change her religion.

Since this did not make sense, we have said that after her death, h

er next-of-kin should submit an affidavit saying she had practiced the Zoroastrian religion till the end,” said Khojestee Mistree, a BPP trustee.

Mistree added that this did not mean that they will ask for two affidavits. There isa rule that families of inter-married women should submit the affidavit if the deceased is to be given a traditional funeral at the Towers of Silence at Malabar Hill, said Mistree.

The new resolution means that an affidavit signed by inter-married women swearing their loyalty to their old religion will not be enough for a funeral according to Zoroastrian rites.“We have not said anything radical. We have just streamlined the procedure,” he said.

Liberals said the resolution reeked of bias against women. “Even a man can adopt another religion; many go to Shirdi. Will they or their family members also be required to submit an affidavit stating they remained Zoroastrians in mind and spirit? They are humiliating women by making such rules,” said Jehangir Patel, editor of the liberal community weekly, Parsiana.

Napean Sea Road resident Goolrukh Gupta, who is a Parsi married to a non-Zoroastrian, asked, “Already more than 40% of Zoroastrians find marriage partners outside the community. How can they insist on this undertaking from women alone?”
Orthodox groups like World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis (WAPIZ) said the BPP resolution gave a legal backing to an old community custom.

“When a woman undergoes a religious marriage with someone who is not from her community, it is assumed she has left her old religion. This is not so under the Special Marriage Act. This is something that has been there for years. I have never questioned it as a woman,” said Anahita Desai, WAPIZ.

  • Urvax.Motafram

    Meaningless step, bark without teeth.
    What if a relative ‘ X’ of a deceased female gives an affidavit that the late person was a practicing Zoroastrian which is factually false and next day another relative ‘L’ comes up saying that she was not a practicing Zoroastrian and had given up her religion of birth? It will be word of ‘X’ against the word of ‘L’. What action can be taken against person who give false affidavit as no proof can be provided from either side.
    .
    Instead such affidavit should be obtained from the concerned Agiary Panthaky as the deceased would have been visiting the Fire Temple during her life time if she were a practicing Zoroastrian. We must empower our priest and give them due importance and recognition.This way they will get much needed respect.
    It is odd that such a notification has been FIRST published through DNA paper which is a secular paper and not through community press.

  • Ervad Hoshang J. Bhadha Ph.D.

    I very muchg agree with Urvax Motafram comment on obtaining an affidavit from the concerned Agiary Panthaky which applies in Bombay. If the deceased body is coming from other state or outside the country it would be very humiliating for the deceased family to provide such affidavit if they were not informed. The purpose of this affifavit is to identify the practicing religion of the deceased which should be Zoroastrianism.

    On WAPIZ Anahita Desai’s comment on a woman marrying outside and its legal implications …… just to remind her that our religion is not formed on Legal System neither Paigambar Saheb has validated the Special Marriage Act. Doongarwadi property is a spiritual place for the deceased governed by the spiritual laws given in our scriptures and not by some LL.B. or judge in legal system. Both Male & Female are equal in our religion and so does the scriptural laws concerning marrying outside and their rights to religious institutions applies to both. From generations our selfish male community has discriminated females from their rights and privileges which reflects in quite a few religious traditions and property inheritence laws. This is ridiculous. As per our religion, female plays a very significant role in nature enhancing the progression cycle and the souls. In prayers we revere both male & female Ashavans and attempt to remain attune with them “Naraam Ashaonam Fravashayo Yazamaide, Nairenam Ashoninam Fravashayo Yazamaide”. Our community will never understand the importance and significance of female in our spiritual life. Female degradation and discrimination must end. Thus, religion does not discriminate either male or female in laws relating to practicing and non-practicing. There is no exception neither anyone of us is holy enough to reform the spiritual orders in the nature (not paper). There is a reason and purpose of each laws and practice that affects the natural and spiritual order in the nature. What Parsee community is concerned about is what affects their conscious mind ignoring all that is unseen and unknown. No doubt we are not far away from extinction. It is better to end ourselves like Maayan Civilization than to be a part of the melting pot.

  • Siloo Kapadia

    If there is anything meaningless to accomplish, the BPP comes out batting! Never mind the fact that the community is dying out, never mind that so many of our young people are themselves leaving for other faiths, never mind that such a huge number of Parsis in India are over the age of 60. No! None of that matters. Instead, they waste their time with nonsense such as this.

    Why anyone in their right mind would like to be interred at the Towers of Silence is beyond me. Imagine, having a leg bone dropped over someone’s roof, some breast tissue spat out by some crow at some filthy river, or a half-eaten skull left to rot in some bird’s nest. The thought alone makes many of us puke.

    Now, to make things even more interesting, the BPP (Mellah Moojah Clique) come out with this cock and bull nonsense to make such a practice even more difficult. I guess they are doing the community a favor by deterring as many as they can.

    Stupid people! We need a real election or even a revolution. These BPP fanatics make the mullahs in Iran look civil!

  • Mickie Sorabjee

    Type your comment here…
    Before overstepping on terrain beyond their territory as mere custodians of our community’s mammoth Charity Trust, the present crop of 6 administrating BPP TRUSTEES could do with self introspection to assess if each of them is morally worthy of their elected post albeit they were voted to it.

    Instead of making ill-conceived resolutions tantamount to issuing unconstitutional diktats (that could well be legally challenged) against women who have married outside the Parsee Community, the not so magnificent six should first glance inwards among their flapping flock, before pompously announcing their unjust proclamations.

    They should lead by example. For starters there should be no hesitation to pick up the gauntlet and ask the guilty one in their own midst to morally relinquish her post for wilfully encouraging those religiously converted outside Zoroastrian religion to “defile” (their words) an Agiary, our sacred place of worship, and our Doongerwadi Bunglees, thereby offending the sensibilities of true Jarthostis!

    No takers? But natural. Such principled ground among six of the current BPP Trustees is just wishful thinking. They need reminding that mortals who abide in vitreous edifices should not possess morbid propensities towards disestablishmentarianism.

    The WAPIZ associated wife of an incumbent Trustee has condescendingly moralised “When a woman undergoes a religious marriage with someone who is not from her community, it is assumed she has left her old religion. This is not so under the Special Marriage Act. This is something that has been there for years. I have never questioned it as a woman.”

    As a woman, this person should have questioned this quaint law discriminating against those women whose inter-community marriages are equally pre-ordained in heaven just like hers to a community brethren was.

    Now, how can an infamous resolution give legal backing to an old custom? At the rate BPP is finding reasons for restraining consignment of Parsee bodies to the Towers of Silence, and several already opting from compulsion for alternate methods of disposal of their bodies, there will gradually be a dearth of ruvaans seeking to be interred at our Doongerwadi.

    Leading lights who have taken up cudgels to fight against the unfair banning of priests who opt to say last rites prayers for devout Parsees desiring cremation, should now join forces to include those women affected by this villainous resolution and also those denied entry to Fire Temples because their spouses are non-Parsees. In fact, every one affected by the archaic diktats by the BPP should form a common platform to combat the slew of unwarranted new policies that cause faction and upheaval in our peace loving, cultured and resourceful community.

  • Urvax.Motafram

    Thanks very much Bhada Saheb for agreeing with my suggestion of obtaining affidavits from the Panthaky of the concerned Agiary instead burdening the relatives of the deceased who may not be even Parsees.
    Sir, you will also agree that several individuals have no close relatives surviving . In such an eventuality, who will be able to give affidavit?
    Sir, in my opinion this resolution diminishes and insults the importance of Sudreh Kusti. It seems that an affidavit of another mortal has greater weight than Sudreh Kusti. Any thoughts on this aspect from your learned self ,Sir?
    I too agree with you that there has been gender discrimination and that our religion is not formed on Legal System. You would have observed that the statement has been made by spouse of a Trustee. In law the Trustee has delegated responsibility and how can a Trustee further delegate the same to his spouse is an issue by itself which the so called progressive guys are likely exploit .
    Her exact words are ‘it is assumed she has left her old religion. This is not so under the Special Marriage Act.’ So this resolution is based on assumptions and presumptions and thus insulting our sacred thread and sudreh by substituting in favour of an Affidavit from a parjaat.
    With respects,
    Urvax.

  • Urvax.Motafram

    I had posted a thank you reply to Er. Bhadha yesterday noon but it has not been approved and kept pending as can be seen above, yet some posts subsequent to mine have seen light of the day.Just drawing your kind attention pl.

  • Icchaporia.

    We need sensible clergy like Er. Bhadha.
    It is inappropriate to expect relatives to give an affidavit. This is a knee jerk reaction to what happened in a Hughes Road Fire Temple some time back where the concerned Panthaky was in two minds and became wiser after the first step.
    Affidavit requires a Stamp paper and has to be affirmed before a Magistrate or a Notary. What if death occurs after 6.00 in the evening and before 11 a.m. in the morning? From where will Stamp paper be available and from where to locate a Notary at an odd hour?
    What if it is a Sunday or a public holiday?
    This action shows absence of vision on the part of elected Trustees. Best course would be outright deny any facility whatsoever do such inter religious married woman.

  • Boman Patel

    Ms. Siloo Kapadia,
    Many sensible individuals like me totally agree with contents of para no 2 of your message dated the 17th instant. Thus in my opinion how can we legitimately criticize the Trustees for their action of debarring females who have married out of the community being ‘deprived of the facility’ I see no ground for plea of discrimination when we question the efficacy of the practice.
    What is needed is a signature campaign of all MumbaI BASED Bawas and Bawis who are sensible to make a representation for allowing dual facility – existing for those who believe that they can reach paradise and their sins washed off if they opt for existing practice. The second being option to use the Bunglis for prayer facilities for those desirous of opting for alternative system. Of course, no crematoria can be allowed to be set up. NO ONE WANTS THIS EXTRA FACILITY BUT ITS REQUIREMENT IS DUE TO COMPELLING CIRCUMSTANCES.
    Such a representation with signature, full names & addresses can be addressed to Chief Justice of Mumbai High Court to be ultimately converted into a Writ Petition. HOW ECO FRIENDLY THE EXISTING PRACTICE IS CAN BE GOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFIED BY COURT APPOINTED PERSONS.
    As for obtaining Affidavits, let these Trustees obtain affidavits from pall bearers furnishing the name of the Fire Temple/Priests who performed their Navjotes and the names of their both parents.My aim is not to cause humiliation or insult these pall bearers who are forced to carry out their duties under such trying circumstances but to expose the rank duplicity of those who became Trustees with ‘massive and overwhelming majority’ of about 5300 votes out of constituency of 32,000.The major ‘culprits’, if I may use this word are those Parsees who were too tired to stand in a line to cast their votes.The present situation is the outcome of the apathy of these elements who are now crying hoarse from roof tops.

  • Rémi

    To Siloo, about your post dated 09/17: I’d say that there is no “clean” way to dispose of a corpse : being eaten by vultures in a dakhma, being eaten by worms if buried, being toasted like a sausage…

  • Carol Daver

    We, the women, are born as Zoroastrians into the parsi community, we should be allowed to die with dignity as part of the community, irrespective of whom we have married. Parsi men who have married outside the community are not required to bring in avidavits as proof of following the religion, why then should the women be subjected to this? It is de-meaning and humiliating…..
    Let it remain the prerogative of the dying person who would know within their hearts that they have followed the religion. Others, namely the courts, or priests, or BPP or anyone other than dying person should have no say, or should not enforce their views on the last rites.
    We do not accept conversation into our religion. Fine. At least let those born into the community have the right to our religious last rites if that is what they desire.

  • Dorab.

    @ Remy, Have you seen any VULTURES these days in Mumbai. since you refer to corpse : being eaten by vultures in a dakhma ‘ If so please inform the location.
    @Carol,
    The last para of post of Boman is very apt, particularly last seven concluding lines. It points to reasons for current state of affairs.Boman’ diagnosis seems totally right.People voted based on who served best food and not on how the person would be of some use o community members. Thats the harsh fact you ought to concede.

  • Rémi

    Siloo: Your post expressed the idea of corpses rotting and half-eaten skulls make you puke. So do I.
    I wanted to react on the fact that in the end, all ways to get rid of a corpse are as yucky as the dakhma system (with or without vultures). If some want to end in a dakhma even when no vulture is to be seen, it’s up to them. In my opinion, focusing on the dakhma system is not the proper angle of attack. What does make me puke is bigotry, closemindedness, and sexism.

    Besides, I think that asking for one own funeral to take place in a dakhma is the biggest evidence that someone is still a Zoroastrian. Just an example: someone marries outside the community and converts to Hinduism or Islam, or anything else. Because that person is a convert, he/she will then practice the new religion, INCLUDING the funeral rites. One could say that death is the very moment when one shows one’s religion. So, there is no use asking to proof of practice : if someone asks for the dakhma, this proves that that person is a devout, true Zoroastrian.

  • Siloo Kapadia

    Deekras:

    Many have brought up a valuable point, that is, that sexism and racism are rampant. The latter we already know about, but it is the sexism that is so abhorrant, all the more so as we are the first to criticize the Muslims in their practices but what are we? We are not walking the high moral ground here in this respect.

    Because I am a woman I am a second class citizen in the religion. Those in the BPP (Mellah Moojah Clique-MMCs) are more than happy to see the continuation of the status quo. Sadly, the vast majority of younger Parsis couldn’t care less, as they mostly walk a fine line between being religious and not. To many of them, they are Parsis for ethnic and social purposes, but are not religious in the very sense of the word. Perhaps they are right, with all this geloo gadoo gupsup abounding. It is very sad.

    Remi deekra, no, there is no clean way to get rid of a corpse, but the Towers of Silence are perhaps the worst way I can think of. Being buried or cremated is 1000 times better I would say. No body parts flying all over the place. Chee, wass-e-wass.

    Boman deekra, the core is religious reform which the dinosaurs in the BPP refuse. In that sense there is more deliberation in Muslim circles than in the Parsi community. We Parsis are quick to cirticize the Muslims, but in many aspects they are ahead of us.

    Currently we are seeing a great religious divide; those that are more progressive and that want change, and the MMCs that want to stagnate and even die out for their crazy beliefs.

    What does the future hold? A split in the community, as seen in other religions. The MMCs and their ilk are doomed to die out sooner or later. Then the progressive Parsis will take control.

    This is history in the making. It is destiny!

  • farzana

    “It is better to end ourselves like Maayan Civilization than to be a part of the melting pot.”

    Oye bawa, Maayan Civilization collapse due to climate changes…Parsi community will collapse due to their inbred stupidity of following destructive leadership

  • Dorab.

    Remi,
    At the outset let me remind you that you have overlooked to answer my question of my post of 22nd instant.
    As for your sweeping statement that asking for one own funeral to take place in a dakhma is the biggest evidence that someone is still a Zoroastrian.” You seem unaware of the large Zoroastrian population spread all over the world particularly Iran where burial is practiced. Parsees bred in brought up in India and settled outside India remain Zoroastrian Parsees though they do not practice the failed ‘system’.in their present place of residence.
    Equally absurd is your statement that ‘if someone asks for the dakhma, this proves that that person is a devout, true Zoroastrian.’.
    By so saying you are implying that Parsee Zoroastrians have ceased to be devout because they are presently located in places other than Mumbai, Surat, Pune and other small towns of western India.
    Do Christians cease to be devout when they cannot bury their dead because of prohibitive land prices in the West?
    Farzana, what leadership are you referring to.? Do they possess leadership qualities? They are all ‘brilliant’ in swaying the large audience with tall, empty rhetoric .

  • Rémi

    Siloo : How would bones fly all over the place? I thought there were no vultures left… Just kidding. Well, anyway it’s gross, for sure.
    And please what does “Chee, wass-e-wass” mean?

  • Rémi

    Dorab:
    About your question about (lack of) vultures: I have never been in India or Iran or anywhere east of Dogubayazit in Turkish Kurdistan, so I don’t know about how vultures are going in Mumbai. My statement was about the yucky process of dematerialising dead matter, whatever the burial system. So, on this subject, let’s say that dakhma with vultures is far from ideal, and dakhma without vultures is a plain failure.
    Now, about the following of your post, I think there is a bit of misunderstanding. I only had in mind the case of someone who wanted to be brought to the towers of silence, not the general situation. I have never implied (or wanted to imply) that opting for the Towers of Silence is the only way to go for devout Zoroastrians. What I mean is : You don’t have to opt for dakhma to be a sincere Zoroastrian, but sticking to this most traditional dakhma system should be sufficient to prove that you are a Zoroastrian. Nobody but a Zoroastrian would choose to go the dakhma way.
    Sooooooo, asking for affidavits in this case is just stupid, and sexist if affidavits are asked just for women.
    Of course Christians opting for alternatives to burial are still Christians. And if you ask for a Christian ceremony at your burial, you ARE a Christian.
    I hope I have made my point clearer.
    Besides : When I posted my last post dated 24 sept 1.16am, your post was not published yet.

  • Shaimak Madon

    Hi Farzana,
    You make a mention of leadership. These worthy leaders are too preoccupied with their own ‘selfless’ endeavor to become CHAIRMAN and induct their progeny as future trustee material.
    Fun is yet to begin.

  • farzana

    According to ‘Vendidad’ (3.2): “That place is happy over which a pious man builds a house, with fire, cattle, wife, children and good followers.”

    Ironic…Wonder how many persons laying claim to to piety have CATTLE in their homes? I know innumerable hypocrites who ceaselessly talk of following Traditions and tenets but without a lawful wife, let alone children and cattle…
    However I asked a ‘pious’ man why his house lacks a cattle shed as the HOLY BOOK commands, and the reply I got was, ‘ these rules were meant for the pious Zarthustis leaving in Iran hundreds of years ago… and he was guided by common sense that such tenets were not practicable to in the 21 century, COMMON SENSE. [NOTE- the stress on ‘common sense’ by that individual].
    Tenets reccomended having a hearth in one’s house. Do we find a hearth in a 600 sq feet flat in BPP constructed flats?
    Those who talk of observing tenets forget that as per tenets one can not offer Avesta prayers in presence of a non Zoroastrian in the house. Wonder how current Meherjirana must be offering prayers in presence of a non Zoro daughter in law. (Nothing personal though).
    Hence according to DHONGI traditionalists(!) Parsees with fossilised minds, rules in VENDIDAD can be CONVENIENTLY discarded or twisted on the basis of being impractical, if they don’t suit them. They themselves admit that their HOLY books were written hundreds of years ago as per the times that existed then and therefore they lose their relevance in the present times… If so, than same can be applied to the LAWS FOR DAKHMA cited from the same book… I shudder to call these ‘protectors’ of religion as Talibans as the latter are comparatively ethical because they do not have double standards.

    Time for reality check, BOOKS LIKE VENDIDAD were authored by MEN without foresight as per their limited individual understanding of hygiene, science and society that prevailed in those times … so there’s nothing sacred or divine about them. Even Khojeste Mistry, the principal Office bearer of Dhobi Talao deoband, is on record saying that Prophet’s own concept of world was rather limited to a certain geographical boundary.

    WE HAVE BRAINS TO THINK FOR OURSELVES, (Oops some wiseacre said mind is druj but said this using his mind) GOD did NOT send books… and by calling such books perpetually relevant, these DHONGI TRADITIONALISTS are not only proving themselves as fools but also harming GOD’s credibility.

    One individual with traditional beliefs and upbringing recently said that if he were in the place of one Trustee (against whom many left handed compliments have been showered on this message board) he would have instantly resigned due to his inabilty to counter such ‘compliments’ and at best would have sought re election to confirm the 2008 ‘mandate’.Now thats what we call Jarthostipanu and consciousness.

  • farzana

    Well, Shaimak … as long as Bawas will keep taking these comedians seriously, they will keep making a joke out of Bawas’ confidence!!:)

  • CONTRA-DHONGI

    Very aptly said Mr. S Madon.
    It resembles the drama “Kissa Khursi Ka.”
    As for you Farzana, the concluding lines of your message contain opinion shared by many upright individuals. But this is no social service as is attempted to be projected. Its pure politics in charity.
    A Trustee should never be a beneficiary of the same trust. But do we have men of such high moral ground??

  • Zerxes.Dordi

    .Are our Fire Temples any less sacred than the dakhmas yet innumerable Parsee women married to persons following other Religions enter such holy places without hindrance or check. In fact it would be more pertinent to prevent such trespass of our Fire Temples particularly Atash Behrams by such out of community married females.
    WHY NOT TAKE STEPS TO PREVENT SPIRITUAL EROSION OF OUR PLACES OF WORSHIP WHICH SHOULD GET A PRIORITY. IS THIS ASPECT BEING IGNORED DELIBARATELY BY BPP TRUSTEES BECAUSE IT IS A KNOWN FACT THAT CLOSE FAMILY MEMBERS OF TWO TRUSTEES HAVE MARRIED OUTSIDE THE RELIGION?
    THE PRETENCE OF WAPIZ TRUSTEES OF BEING GENUINELY ORTHODOX IS SHALLOW.
    AND THIS EXCEPTION SHOWS.

  • Religious but Rational

    While on the subject I am reminded of a quote from the great dictator Adolf Hitler which is very appropriate in this context:
    “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

  • Magin

    Only if it wasn’t moot on Parsi society.

    I wish to see the light of the day when Parsis stop mocking their own religion. They can’t own a GOD…!

  • Magin

    How about donating the body for medical research?

    It can help save lives.

    Oh.. yeah.. now the community will be worried if the saved life is of a Parsi or not..

    Silly me…!!!!

  • Just a few questions..

    If women feel so oppressed in Parsi community, why the hell are they not doing anything about it?

    Why are Parsi men so stuck up about Parsi women? They can easily do whatever they want to. They marry out and still get to keep the faith. When women want marry out, they are threatened that if they go ahead with such a step, they’d be disowned.

    And we here, stand and talk of Religion and last rites… As if we own a GOD.

    There is no GOD for pain..

    Freek Magin