Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Parsis say no to conversion

A gang of Mexican drug smugglers, a sect of Brazilian nudists, a group of paedophiles__they have all professed to be Zoroastrians. Shocked and to stop such "infiltrations", about 35 Parsi-Irani Anjumans, representing different cities, towns and villages in India, passed a resolution against conversion into the community after the UK-based World Zoroastrian Organisation (WZO) recently changed its rules to allow any person professing Zoroastrianism to become its member.

By Nauzer K Bharucha / TNN

From a gang of Mexican drug smugglers, to a sect of Brazilian nudists and a group of pedophiles, they have all professed to be Zoroastrians, has shocked members of this tiny community in India.

Over the weekend, about 35 Parsi-Irani Anjumans, representing different cities, towns and villages in India, passed a resolution against conversion into the community after the UK-based World Zoroastrian Organisation (WZO) recently changed its rules to allow any person professing Zoroastrianism to become its member. The case of a Russian citizen, who came to India early this year on a tourist visa to be ordained as a Zoroastrian priest near the Maharashtra-Gujarat border, was also opposed by the delegates attending the two-day meet of the Federation of Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India. The Russian has moved the Bombay high court after he was prevented by some community members from going ahead with the ceremony.

Recenlty, WZO’s India wing severed ties with WZO (UK) and its members unanimously voted against allowing conversion. throwing the membership doors open to all and sundry. `"History shows that the cruellest wars were fought over religious conversions. Our community is loved and respected because we have never attempted to convert others. Any such attempt will disturb the peaceful coexistence that we have enjoyed with people from other faiths,” Nozer Meherji, vice-president of the WZO (India), told the delegates attending the annual meeting of the Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India. "Just a couple of years ago, a cartel of Mexican drug smugglers, when caught with possession of marijuana, claimed to be Zoroastrians and falsely said the drug was meant to be used in an ancient religious ritual.” He also expressed his fear said Meherji, adding that fundamentalist groups could carry out terror acts by pretending to be Zoroastrians.

Bombay Parsi Punchayat (BPP) trustee Khojeste Mistree said for some foreigners, Zoroastrianism had become a "designer religion”. "It’s easier for citizens of Central Asian countries to migrate to the US and Europe if they claim to be Zoroastrians. This is one of the major reasons why some people want to convert. It’s their passport to the west,” Mistree said. "We also have proof of nudists and paedophiles from Latin America professing to be Zoroastrians. The community cannot exist without its minus its ethnicity.”

BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta said the Russian, Mikhail Chistyakov, who has moved the HC, has stated in his petition that he had been preparing himself to become a full-fledged Zoroastrian priest since 2005. "There is a deliberate attempt to now show that he had come to India only to study Zoroastrianism and that he has had been prevented from doing so. He was barred because he was getting himself initiated into priesthood. Even a Parsi Zoroastrian, who is not of the priestly class, is not allowed to become a priest,” he said.

Solicitor Burjor Antia said conversion was not a solution to the community’s dwindling numbers. "We will lose our identity, which is far more vital than horizontal expansion. Conversion will submerge our closely-knit community and make it extinct,” he said.

Antia observed that the "guerilla warfare” between the orthodox and radicals is "indicative of a sick community”.