The Great Parsi Gender Divide

Why Sauce For the Parsi Goose Is Not Sauce For the Parsi Gander?

By Noshir H. Dadrawala

Parsis have been in the National news again and as usual for all the wrong reasons.

The current dispute is essentially gender based:

  • Why can only Parsi men marry outside the community and continue to enjoy full religious rights – including their children, after their ‘navjote’ is performed?
  • Why is it that Parsi women who are married under the Special Marriages Act are grudgingly granted limited religious rights and their children not accepted within the fold?

What do the scriptures state in this matter?

What is the legal position in India with regard to inter-faith marriages among Parsis and the children of such marriages?

Let’s study the facts objectively!

A number of religious texts, in particular, the Avestan Vendidad and the Pahlavi Dinkard strongly discourage inter-faith unions. However, it is interesting to observe that no where in these sacred texts does one find any indication that it is acceptable for men to inter-marry but not the vice-versa!

So, where does gender discrimination stem from? It’s mainly historical and not necessarily doctrinal!

Based on various affidavits and the evidence led before the Bombay High Court a little over a hundred years ago in famous Parsi Punchayet Case [as reported in (1909) 33 ILR 509 and 11Bom.L.R. 85], Justices Dinshaw Davar and Frank Beamon, had observed and come to the conclusion that the Parsi community consists of:

1) Parsis who are descended from the original Persian emigrants and who are born of both Zoroastrian parents and who profess the Zoroastrian religion;

2) The Iranis from Persia professing the Zoroastrian religion;

3) The children of Parsi fathers by ‘alien’ (non-Parsi) mothers who have been duly and properly admitted into the religion.

Clearly, this legal definition does not include the children of Parsi mothers by ‘alien’ (non-Parsi) fathers who have been duly and properly admitted into the religion.

One must remember here that over a hundred years ago it was largely, if not only, Parsi men who were marrying or worse still, keeping non-Parsi mistresses. There was a vested interest in pushing the theory in court that the Parsis community followed a patriarchal system despite the scriptures upholding gender equity.

In 1925 another case surfaced in Rangoon concerning Bella who was the orphaned daughter of a Goan Christian father and a Parsi mother who was brought up in a Zoroastrian household of Rangoon from early infancy and whose ‘navjote’ was duly performed by an ordained Parsi Zoroastrian priest. In this case [Saklat vs Bella, reported in 1925 Bom LR at page 161] the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council held that Bella, despite her ‘navjote’ having been performed "was not entitled as of right, to use the fire temple (in Rangoon), or to attend or to participate in any of the religious ceremonies performed therein."

More than a century has elapsed since Davar and Beamon made their observations with regard to who is a Parsi Zoroastrian! However, today, more Parsi women than Parsi men are marrying outside the community and they are feeling very discriminated.

What is the position in law with regard to Parsi women who choose to marry outside the fold under The Special Marriage Act?

Under the earlier Special Marriage Act of 1872, if a Parsi lady professing the Zoroastrian religion wished to marry under the old Act, she had to make a declaration that she did not profess the Zoroastrian religion. In the current Act (i.e., the Special Marriage Act, 1954), there is no such provision for making such a declaration (i.e., renouncing one’s religion). The inference drawn is that by marrying under the Special Marriage Act 1954, a Parsi Zoroastrian lady continues to be a Parsi (by birth) and continues to profess the Zoroastrian religion in the absence of having expressly renounced it at the time of her marriage. We shall refrain from further comment or analysis as this particular issue is currently sub judice.

  • shehzad irani

    what i can understand from this banter, is that according to the honorable mr. Dadrawalla, if it is over a hundred years, its time to change – to throw out the old and bring in the new…

    and then, if we can, in the process, call some folks “old fashioned”, “bigoted” “sexist”, well ya – what the heck… at least we can be called “secular, “unbiased, and “modern”.

    Just retrospect – this once. if you change everything – it shall be something new…

  • Burjor Bharucha

    Although it does appear discriminatory, the Zoroastrian religion has no ambiguity re: the definition of who a parsi/zoroastrian is viz.:

    1) Parsis who are descended from the original Persian emigrants and who are born of both Zoroastrian parents and who profess the Zoroastrian religion;

    2) The Iranis from Persia professing the Zoroastrian religion;

    3) The children of Parsi fathers by ‘alien’ (non-Parsi) mothers who have been duly and properly admitted into the religion.

    This has further been endorsed by the two famous court judgements of Davar vs. Beamon in 1909 and the Goan
    Christian father and Parsi Mother in Rangoon in 1915.

    I feel we should let the matter rest with the above judgements rather than create unnecessary controvery and conflict amongst the community.

    If any parsi woman chooses to marry outside the zoroastrian, let her by all means she can but then she should not aspire for the impossible and try to change established law and norm. For a moment just imagine if this were to be allowed would not the identity of the parsi / zoroastrian community get completely eradicated with a few decades we would have scores of Guptas, Yadavs, D’souzas, Mohamud Alis and so on? As it is the community is depleting amending the law to accomodate parsi women marrying outside would hasten the end of the community.

  • Siloo Kapadia

    You say that Parsi men may marry and their children accepted. However, many of the bawaji bullies reject even this. They rant that ALL children of religious intermarriages are outcast. This is the reality of their madness. All this in a community that is in South Asia dying.

    In the greater NYC community there are now priests of intermarriages. There is no problem here. That is why the community is thriving abroad and dying at home. Shame.

  • Siloo Kapadia

    When I mentions priests of intermarriages below, I mean to say children that are priests who are the result of intermarried couples.

  • A R

    Mr. Burjor Bharucha,

    Two questions for you:

    Should Martin Luther King have let the matter of racial discrimination “rest” with previous judgments “rather than create unnecessary controvery and conflict amongst the community”?

    Should Gandhi have let the matter of caste discrimination “rest” with previous judgments “rather than create unnecessary controvery and conflict amongst the community”?

  • Rémi

    If I understand correctly, the same deed (marrying outside the fold) should be dealt with with radically opposite measures (total acceptance and total eviction) on the sole basis of the gender of the doer.
    What is so special with women (or with men) to justify this dissimilar treatment?

    Mr/Mrs Bharucha, I understand from your last paragraph that children of non-parsi fathers would threat the community’s survival, because their mixed descent would dilute the community features.
    But children born of non-parsi mothers are of mixed descent too! And, while they are accepted in the fold, this diluting scenario has not occured (yet?).
    One could draw the conclusion that a child, whetever full-strengh Parsi or half-breed, when dully and properly introduced into the fold, remains faithful to Zoroastrianism.
    But I admit that I might be missing an element that proves me wrong. In such case, please do not hesitate to correct me.

  • a.rustomjee

    A.R. None could have raised more pertinent questions as you have. My genuine compliments.
    Mr. Bharucha further needs to read about Lutheranism, Disambiguation, and indulgences.If Martin Luther had also believed to let things remain as they were, Protestantism
    would never have taken roots. And our own Scholar Priests have their own concept of indulgences. Less said the better.

  • keki unwalla

    With parsi father & non-parsi mother, we cannot be 100% sure of parsi lineage; but with parsi mother & non-parsi father we are 100% sure of parsi lineage; so where is the arguement?

  • Farnaz

    There is no scope of argument here, you are absolutely correct. Seems like the ones who are bent on bending the regulations have already bent the rules. Some have started playing defensive…amazing…but amusing.

  • yas

    The issue today is not defining who is a Parsi but achieving unity within the community so the Press and other communities don’t make a mockery of the pathetic state of affairs.
    Extreme polarization between Liberals and Conservatives appears to be the main reason why Parsi youth today especially females are turning away from marrying within the fold. Both liberals and conservatives are the two sides of the same coin. The most disappointing aspect in the community is there is no ‘Leader’ who can unite different factions. Instead of wasting time on personal attacks, proving others wrong – the community needs a strong reality check. Failure to tackle this crucial issue will disintegrate the community with governments and vested interests capitalizing on internal squabbles and leave the whole community in ruins.

  • keki unwalla

    Why not the BPP run a DNA check on all the community members, from the lowly chasniwalas to the high priests and throw out all who fail this purity test (through 40 generations); rest of the dozen or more, who remain may be branded for purity by an independant certifying agency and strictly monitored for their produce. Heil Hitler!

  • farzana

    THE PERSIAN RIVAYATS

    In the 15th & 16th centuries, the Zoroastrians of India had lost much religious knowledge due to their isolation. Therefore, they sent messengers to Iran seeking proper guidance from the priestly authorities who had maintained the orthodox traditions.

    The Persian Rivayats are a collection of epistles documenting their correspondence about a wide variety of topics, including MARRIAGE, divorce, juddins or darwands (i.e. non-Zoroastrians), ritual, and CONVERSION.

    Plz read the following to get better idea-

    http://www.avesta.org/rivayats/rivayat2.htm

    thank you

    -farzAna

  • Tele

    These ¨rules¨ were reasonable when the fold was large and thriving, we have had to change our views on intercaste/community marriages in Mauritius as the castes and communities are limited in numbers. We face health problems after only 150 years of island life.

  • Beroz

    Different standards are adopted by the Priestly class to treat the average Parsi. It has come to notice of several persons better up to date in the affairs of the community that a renowned Agiary priests otherwise known for raising his hands in WAPIZ meetings adopted DOUBLE STANDARDS and some time back allowed full set of ceremonies for a departed soul of a Parsi lady who had intermarried several decades back and had even a non Parsi name. It appears that this was influenced by the financial status of the deceased.

    The Panthaky of this particular holy Fire Temple is well known for his appearances on Television and moves around in posh Cars.

    Who says, Priests live in poverty?

  • Vyara

    Complex mindsets or to make it clear, biased mindsets.

  • Vyara

    I propose both should be given a chance of equality, but for that certain minds have to grow up quick, before its too late.