Purity makes Parsis an endangered species

IN a country where 70,000 babies are born every day, young Zahan Daruwala’s birth three months ago was a relatively rare event.

As the child of two Indian Parsi parents, Zahan is one of fewer than 200 likely to be born

into his dwindling community this year.

By Amanda Hodge | The Australian

Births within the Parsi community — a group of Indians descended from Persian Zoroastrian migrants who fled forced Islamic conversions some 1300 years ago — are now such a rarity that the country’s planning commission last month announced a 20 million rupee ($350,000) fund to boost fertility levels.

India’s Parsi population, which has counted rock star Freddie Mercury, industrialist Ratan Tata and writer Rohinton Mistry among its members, has almost halved from just over 114,000 in 1941 to fewer than 61,000 in the imminent 2011 census results.

Mumbai’s community — still the largest in the world — has dropped to about 41,000. With the Parsi annual birth rate now 15 per cent of the death rate, the community is critically endangered.

But how — and

indeed whether — the Parsi race should be preserved is an argument that is raising uncomfortable notions of ethnic purity, arcane sexism and cultural exclusivity.

At the centre of the debate is the conservative Bombay Parsi Panchayet, a council of seven trustees that administers the community’s considerable wealth and doles out subsidies for housing, fertility and families with more than one child.

Since Mumbai’s first democratic Panchayet elections in 2008, the trustees have pushed back hard against reformists who seek to open up the community in order to preserve it.

Controversial trustee and Zoroastrian scholar Khojeste Mistree says such reformers miss the point.

"If the Parsi identity dissolves then by implication the Zoroastrian identity will dissolve for the simple reason that, historically for 3500 years, Zoroastriansim has been upheld and followed by Parsis," he told The Weekend Australian. "It’s an ethnically focused religion."

Zahan’s parents Anahita and Kaizad, both born into Parsi families, admit they too worry about the future of their community but not so much that they intend on having more than one or two children.

"It’s not just about populating the Parsi community," says Kaizad. "We need to give him a good education."

For generations the Bombay Panchayet has prohibited non-Parsis, including converts through marriage and the children of Parsi women who marry outside, from entering Mumbai fire temples and the Tower of Silence — a forested parkland where Parsis are lain after death to be consumed by vultures.

Parsi communities in other parts of India and the world place far fewer restrictions on converts and children from inter-marriages.

But Mistree insists allowing in converts "would be nailing the coffin of the community four generations downstream".

"By the fourth generation the Parsi identity dissolves so if you want to increase the Parsi community, the Parsi ethnicity, clearly intermarriage can’t be the answer.

"There’s a lot of pressure from our educated girls wanting acceptance for their children. If people choose to marry outside the tradition I don’t stop them but there are consequences."

Those consequences have included the ostracisation of two "renegade" priests in Mumbai who conducted religious initiations for children of intermarriages and prayers for Parsis who opted for cremation rather than having their bodies decay over weeks at the Tower of Silence — the vultures are long gone.

One of those priests took his case to the Mumbai High Court, which found in his favour on appeal. The Panchayet has now taken it to the higher Supreme Court.

Jehangir Patel, a secular Parsi and editor of Parsiana newspaper, has since the 1970s charted a community so admired for its business acumen and honesty that the advertisement of a second-hand car as "Parsi-owned" is considered warranty enough.

He says current Parsi exclusivity has been entirely influenced by the Indian caste system and has no basis in the Zoroastrian religion

Parsi Zoroastrians, like all Zoroastrians worldwide, follow the prophet Zarathustra and believe in the god Ahura Mazda. They worship in front of symbols of the sun or fire and believe that by doing good deeds they keep chaos at bay.

"(Mistree) is not willing to look at the issues from today’s perspective of equality for women and the fact we’re letting race dominate religious issues," says Patel.

"It’s sad because it’s one of the world’s oldest religions and I wonder if it will survive the Parsis."

Chief among Mumbai’s Parsi reformers is Kerssie Wadia who, with his brother Vispy, established the Association for the Revival of Zoroastrianism in 2004 in the hope of fostering a more inclusive community.

Wadia, a congenial chartered accountant, argues Khojeste’s ultra-orthodoxy comes from a misinterpretation of Zoroastrian texts and that the prophet intended it to be a "religion for all mankind".

"If Mistree was in the US, the UK or Australia (where there are some 2570 Parsis) he would be accused of racism.

"Parsis came to India 1400 years ago to preserve the religion because they were being forcibly converted (by Muslim invaders). They didn’t come to preserve the race."

Wadia hopes to set up a parallel infrastructure of Fire Temples and Towers of Silence that will welcome all converts to the religion and all children of intermarriages.

"I’m worried about this community because the age profile is totally against us. Last year there were 1000 registered deaths in Mumbai but only 143 births.

"We’re absolutely endangered," he says, firing off a further set of grim statistics.

Forty per cent marry outside the community; the average Parsi couple marries late, has 1.2 kids and an 11 per cent divorce rate. More than 45 per cent of Parsis are over 65.

Wadia accuses the Trustees of trying to buy ordinary Parsis’ votes with promises of better housing, child subsidies and the grandest of all schemes — a proposed 300 million rupee project to preserve Bombay’s historic Tower of Silence by building a giant vulture aviary over it.

While the ARZ has growing international support — especially among north American Zoroastrians who refuse to even use the word Parsi — Wadia fears that a Supreme Court ruling upholding the Panchayet’s appeal will empower it to excommunicate all dissenters.

Mistree too is worried for the future but says as a scholar and trustee he has a responsibility to ensure the community does not spiral into "religious anarchy".

"We have to do our best to preserve our ethnic identity and leave it in God’s hands. I’m not being fatalistic. My position is we have to be proactive and make our youngsters realise that it’s beautiful to marry within the fold.

"How can that be racist?"

  • nari

    Bpp trustees gave lot of false promises in 2008. Again they will repeat in october, 2015. They have not been able to fulfill any promises. They had promised tenancy. they gave leave and licence. Even ownership flats at panthaki colony are given with a ten year clause and society is still not formed. Election Code of Conduct is still not made. They can easily make a software of 5,000 flats and find out whcih flats are available. Pending housing applications are not shown to the community. 1200 flats at Navroze Baug for re-development will be also given on leave and licence. Actually, it should be given on ownership and maintenance amount considered for poor and needy. Parsi Lying in hospital matter has now reached High Court. They can easily sit down together and reduce no. of court cases by doing out-of-court-settlements and save lot of money for the welfare of the community. Godrej Baug trespassing is increasing day by day. Godrej Baug towers matter is still not solved. Merit rating scheme is totally bogus. Out-of-turn allotments are given to relatives of trustees. Parsi Girls prefer marrying non-parsees which is 100 percent wrong. They expect boys to be highly educated, earning 1 lac, having own independent house, car and no in-laws. These parsi boys are unable to provide and hence parsi girls marry non-parsees. This results in our community diminishing day by day. Presently 41,000 parsis in mumbai will reduce to less than 20,000 in next 30 years. Rs 2 crores from Govt for fertility treatment and 25 crores for aviary project will be wasted. Nothing has been done for reducing unemployment in teh parsi community. Nothing has been done for giving repayable loans to start new business. It is high time that bpp arranges a samast anjuman meeting to clarify doubts, problems and solutions. God bless the community.

  • nari

    Bpp trustees gave lot of false promises in 2008. Again they will repeat in october, 2015. They have not been able to fulfill any promises. They had promised tenancy. they gave leave and licence. Even ownership flats at panthaki colony are given with a ten year clause and society is still not formed. Election Code of Conduct is still not made. They can easily make a software of 5,000 flats and find out whcih flats are available. Pending housing applications are not shown to the community. 1200 flats at Navroze Baug for re-development will be also given on leave and licence. Actually, it should be given on ownership and maintenance amount considered for poor and needy. Parsi Lying in hospital matter has now reached High Court. They can easily sit down together and reduce no. of court cases by doing out-of-court-settlements and save lot of money for the welfare of the community. Godrej Baug trespassing is increasing day by day. Godrej Baug towers matter is still not solved. Merit rating scheme is totally bogus. Out-of-turn allotments are given to relatives of trustees. Parsi Girls prefer marrying non-parsees which is 100 percent wrong. They expect boys to be highly educated, earning 1 lac, having own independent house, car and no in-laws. These parsi boys are unable to provide and hence parsi girls marry non-parsees. This results in our community diminishing day by day. Presently 41,000 parsis in mumbai will reduce to less than 20,000 in next 30 years. Rs 2 crores from Govt for fertility treatment and 25 crores for aviary project will be wasted. Nothing has been done for reducing unemployment in teh parsi community. Nothing has been done for giving repayable loans to start new business. It is high time that bpp arranges a samast anjuman meeting to clarify doubts, problems and solutions. God bless the community.

  • nari

    Bpp trustees gave lot of false promises in 2008. Again they will repeat in october, 2015. They have not been able to fulfill any promises. They had promised tenancy. they gave leave and licence. Even ownership flats at panthaki colony are given with a ten year clause and society is still not formed. Election Code of Conduct is still not made. They can easily make a software of 5,000 flats and find out whcih flats are available. Pending housing applications are not shown to the community. 1200 flats at Navroze Baug for re-development will be also given on leave and licence. Actually, it should be given on ownership and maintenance amount considered for poor and needy. Parsi Lying in hospital matter has now reached High Court. They can easily sit down together and reduce no. of court cases by doing out-of-court-settlements and save lot of money for the welfare of the community. Godrej Baug trespassing is increasing day by day. Godrej Baug towers matter is still not solved. Merit rating scheme is totally bogus. Out-of-turn allotments are given to relatives of trustees. Parsi Girls prefer marrying non-parsees which is 100 percent wrong. They expect boys to be highly educated, earning 1 lac, having own independent house, car and no in-laws. These parsi boys are unable to provide and hence parsi girls marry non-parsees. This results in our community diminishing day by day. Presently 41,000 parsis in mumbai will reduce to less than 20,000 in next 30 years. Rs 2 crores from Govt for fertility treatment and 25 crores for aviary project will be wasted. Nothing has been done for reducing unemployment in teh parsi community. Nothing has been done for giving repayable loans to start new business. It is high time that bpp arranges a samast anjuman meeting to clarify doubts, problems and solutions. God bless the community.

  • What a lot of rubbish! Of course many Parsees are being racist in refusing others entry into the religion, of being against intermarriage and not allowing the spouses to convert.

    However my question is, when the priests came from Persia to India and intermarried with South Asian women, Parsees for ever more became mixed race. So what is all this “purity” nonsense about?

    Bilkul uddther che!

  • What a lot of rubbish! Of course many Parsees are being racist in refusing others entry into the religion, of being against intermarriage and not allowing the spouses to convert.

    However my question is, when the priests came from Persia to India and intermarried with South Asian women, Parsees for ever more became mixed race. So what is all this “purity” nonsense about?

    Bilkul uddther che!

  • Phiroze

    HA HA HA !!! Siloo, thanks for making our day. You must have been on that boat from Persia to know that only priests came and had to marry hindu women. Bilkul barabar che! Kheta toh diwani but sunta bhi tera diwana.

  • Phiroze

    HA HA HA !!! Siloo, thanks for making our day. You must have been on that boat from Persia to know that only priests came and had to marry hindu women. Bilkul barabar che! Kheta toh diwani but sunta bhi tera diwana.

  • Barak Aga

    The claim to Persian ethnicity and purity by Gujarati converts to Zoroastrianism has been convincingly exposed as pure baloney by genetics. The fake orthodox are a tragic comedy. The son of the Chairman of the BPP – who led the attack on a Zoroastrian priest in Sanjan – has gone and married a Sindhi. The son of a self-appointed High Priest is married to a Gujjuben, and their half-Gujju-half-fake-Persian kids have already been initiated in to the Zoroastrian faith. It is reported on this website that many of the BPP trustees have relatives who are married to non-Zoroastrians, and that these relatives continue visit the Fire Temples. The charlatans, and Fake Orthodox have truly made a big ass of themselves. There is no purity, there never was. And neither are they endangered, as there are plenty of Gujjus, and brown Sahibs, around. The Mumbai Parsis were nothing but knock-off versions | imitations, of Europeans. Now almost everyone is imitating the Europeans so there is nothing to distinguish the Parsis from their other ethnic Indian brethren.

  • Barak Aga

    The claim to Persian ethnicity and purity by Gujarati converts to Zoroastrianism has been convincingly exposed as pure baloney by genetics. The fake orthodox are a tragic comedy. The son of the Chairman of the BPP – who led the attack on a Zoroastrian priest in Sanjan – has gone and married a Sindhi. The son of a self-appointed High Priest is married to a Gujjuben, and their half-Gujju-half-fake-Persian kids have already been initiated in to the Zoroastrian faith. It is reported on this website that many of the BPP trustees have relatives who are married to non-Zoroastrians, and that these relatives continue visit the Fire Temples. The charlatans, and Fake Orthodox have truly made a big ass of themselves. There is no purity, there never was. And neither are they endangered, as there are plenty of Gujjus, and brown Sahibs, around. The Mumbai Parsis were nothing but knock-off versions | imitations, of Europeans. Now almost everyone is imitating the Europeans so there is nothing to distinguish the Parsis from their other ethnic Indian brethren.

  • Phiroze, are you still loose? I would have thought that they had locked you up by now. You would be good in making baskets.

  • Phiroze, are you still loose? I would have thought that they had locked you up by now. You would be good in making baskets.

  • Behroze Sidhwa

    Dear Siloo, You do not seem to have heard the adage in Gujarati viz. Khotto kadi Khovai nahi. Meaning a useless item never gets lost. Similarly, there is Gresham’s law. Bad coins tend to drive away good coins. If you happen to visit a website FAKING NEWS, it has very intelligent satire, the name of the author being being PAGAL PATRAKAR. in short P.P. But the peepee on this blog cannot match the guy on FAKING NEWS. Do visit this website, it will sharpen your intellect. But discussing with Phiroze will diminish your balance of mind and will lend on the couch of a shrink. So I scrupulously avoid him.

  • Purity is a state of mind.

  • Purity is a state of mind.

  • Phiroze

    Siloo deekree, I am going to be around till anti Parsis like you are here. Wish FC was here to tell you about the boat.

  • Phiroze

    Siloo deekree, I am going to be around till anti Parsis like you are here. Wish FC was here to tell you about the boat.

  • Yeah A sound mind and not one In(A)quandry

  • Yeah A sound mind and not one In(A)quandry