Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Farzin Batlivala: 7 year old found starved to death

When neighbours broke open the door of Farzin Batlivala’s house and rushed the inert child to the hospital, doctors were horrified to find not a single particle of food in her body

By Manoj R Nair in the Mumbai Mirror

ferzin_batlivala The death of a 7-year-old half-Parsi girl from hunger has rammed home the sharp reality of starvation at our door-step, and riven the Parsi community which her mother had been petitioning for  help.

A resident of the Parsi Trust flat at Vasai, Nisha Batlivala was abandoned by her husband Bejan seven months ago. Though she worked as a part-time maid at Dhobi Talao to support her three children, Farzin, 7, Arzan, 4 and Yazdan, 1, the family lived in abject poverty. The rent on the trust flat had not been paid for a year, for months they had lived without electricity and according to neighbours, often went to bed without eating a morsel of food.

Nisha, who herself is not a Parsi, had petitioned the wealthy Bombay Parsi Punchayat Trust, for assistance but had been asked to furnish proof that her husband belonged to the community. Last week, before going for work, she locked up her three children, asking the seven-year-old Farzin who had been pulled out of school, to mind her younger siblings.


In the afternoon, unable to bear the unceasing cries of the one-year-old Yazdan, neighbours broke open the flat and found Farzin lying semi-conscious in one of the rooms. They took her to a local doctor before taking her to Vasai’s Golden Park Hospital where the child was refused admission because the neighbours did not have the money to pay for the admission. By the time Nisha returned from work in the evening, the child had been admitted to the Primary Health Centre in Navghar where she died on April 2.

Dr Anil Kumar Yadav, in charge of the primary health centre at Navghar who did the post-mortem on Farzin said he was shocked to find there wasn’t a particle of food in Farzin’s body. “The child had not eaten anything for at least two days. Even if she had been vomiting, there would have been some traces of food in the body. She had fever for one-and-a-half months and had not been treated. Though the immediate cause of death is anaemia, we have sent samples from the liver and other vital organs for a pathological test. I also suspect the child had malaria,” he said.

Dr Malcolm Pestonjee of Golden Park Hospital said that his staff reported that Farzin had been gasping for breath when she was brought in. “Unfortunately, I was not there when the child was brought to my hospital. Later I read a report in the local newspapers that said a child was killed by her mother. I was concerned about the other children and called up the police station that’s when I found out about Farzin and the police told me that the mother had not killed the child,” said Pestonjee.

Nisha Batlivala, 27, was too distraught to talk. “I’ll never leave my children alone at home again,” she kept repeating to this reporter. She revealed that she had married Bejan at the Bandra matrimonial court on January 22, 2000. She does not have a copy of the marriage certificate or any other identity papers like a ration card or her children’s birth certificates. Bejan, she said, abandoned the family in August 2008.

Out of sheer desperation, four months ago Nisha approached the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) for help. She said that she had met Dinshaw Mehta, chairman of the BPP Trust who asked her to “bring proof that the children’s father was a Parsi. He wanted to see the marriage certificate. I felt humiliated, so I did not go back,” she said.
When Dr Pestonjee saw the bereaved family at the post mortem centre, the mother and the two children were in tattered clothes. “She told me that she had approached several Parsi trusts for help. Everywhere, she was asked to bring a certificate confirming that the children’s father was Parsi. Being a Parsi, it hurts my soul that we could be so cruel,” he said.

Nisha Batlivala says she was abandoned by her husband Bejan seven months ago

Assistant police inspector Uttam Jagdale of Manickpur police station said inquiries with neighbours revealed that the family would often starve for days. Pestonjee’s Vasai Medical Trust has now supplied the family with six months’ supply of groceries. The family are still without electricity, though Dr Pestonjee has paid to get a new electric meter restored. The Trust also has paid the pending rent of Rs 5000 on the flat.

“All issues about the mother’s non-Parsi origins apart, I cannot believe such a thing has happened. How could the neighbours allow the children to starve? I am going crazy thinking about it,” he said, visibly agitated.

Niloufer Tangri who stays on the second floor of the building said that Nisha often hit her children. “We helped them with food and money whenever we could,” said Tangri, whose husband, Marzban, works in a fire temple in South Mumbai.

Nisha said that she had run away from her home in Mussorie and was no longer in touch with her family. Bejan’s family stay in Grant Road. “But my husband was estranged from his family. They did not accept our marriage so I could not have approached them for help,” she added.

Nisha works with a Irani Zoroastrian family in Dhobi Talao as a maid. She said that she was paid Rs 2000 monthly, apart from a free train pass and a meal. “I could not treat my child as I was working seven days a week. Farzin used to look after her brothers when I left for work,” she said. The Batlivalas live in a flat in a building owned by the Manijeh Pirojsha Sachinwala Trust which also runs a fire temple across the road.

Farzin’s death has become an issue at the ongoing polls to elect a trustee to the Bombay Parsi Punchayet the community’s largest representative body and charity trust. “Poverty has claimed a Parsi child even though our community trusts are flush with funds,” said Dr Viraf Kapadia, a resident of Godrej Baug, Napeansea Road.

Dinshaw Mehta, Chairman, Bombay Parsi Punchayet, said, that though Nisha had come to see him, she met another trustee Arnavaz Mistry. (Mistry was not available for comment.) However, Mehta said, “I did not meet her. We offered to put the children at Avabai Petit school. But she refused. Later, she did not come back.”

“We will send someone to check on the family. Meanwhile we have asked Bomi Sachinwala, who owns the building, to look after the family,” Mehta added. Good intentions, but comes a bit late.

Copyright 2008 Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. . All rights reserved