Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Prove fire temple is important to you, state tells Parsis

Setting community and MMRCL on warpath, govt pleader taunts petitioners: ‘show more than two-and-a-half documents to prove that the Atash Behram is integral to Zoroastrianism

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The Anjuman Atash Behram, one of the two temples likely to be affected by the Metro III underground tunnel. File pic

Article by  Arita Sarkar | Mid-Day

What was supposed to be a day to discuss an amiable solution to the ongoing Metro III-Atash Behram tussle, ended in yet another court hearing that questioned the importance of the holy structures for the Parsi community.

Arguing in the Bombay High Court, representatives of the state and central government said the “two-and-a-half documents” provided by the Parsi petitioners were “simply not enough” to prove how integral the Wadiaji and Anjuman Atash Behrams, which fall along the proposed alignment of Metro III, are for the Zoroastrian religion.

Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, advocate general representing the state government, stated that all beliefs cannot be granted protection under Article 25 of the Constitution (freedom of religion). He said, “We’re dealing with a religion which built such a magnificent structure in the 1930s. We expect them to give evidence for the claims they’re making. The two-and-a-half documents provided by them are simply not enough.”

While Kumbhakoni did not specify which documents he was referring to, the petitioners have submitted an affidavit from Dr Rooyintan Peshotan Peer, a senior Parsi religious scholar, which describes the importance of the Atash Behrams.

‘Material evidence’

Kumbhakoni further raised questions about the petitioner’s claims that the community’s fire temples will be desecrated if the Metro III underground tunnel is constructed anywhere beneath the Atash Behram premises. “There has to be material evidence to prove that the entire premises needs a connection with the earth, and that the religion will collapse if the tunnel goes under the premises that are consecrated. This has not been proven as per the material available on record,” he said.

Raising similar points, Anil Singh, the additional solicitor general representing the central government referred to the concept of ‘Karsh,’ which are the protective spiritual circuits around the Atash Behrams, and stated that the scriptures had no mention about their physical boundaries.

mid-day had reported on August 22, in ‘Metro III will devastate faith of Zoroastrians worldwide’ about the community’s lawyers stating in court that the Metro III construction violates their right to religious freedom. Navroz Seervai, one of the lawyers representing the Parsis, had told the court that the Atash Behrams are Grade III heritage structures, and, “If the Metro construction is allowed to continue, there could be irreversible spiritual damage and there are distinct chances of structural damage as well.”

Parsis infuriated

The points raised by Kumbhakoni and Singh infuriated the members of the community who attended the hearing. They felt like they were being unfairly targeted, despite being one of the world’s oldest surviving religions.

Yazdi Hodiwalla, a senior member of the community said, “More than 80 per cent of the scriptures were destroyed by Alexander III, and later, by the Arabs. Oral tradition is what we have now, which is passed down from generation to generation. We’re unable to produce concrete documented proof, but that doesn’t mean our religious beliefs aren’t valid.”

Absolutely integral

Referring to the state and Centre’s statements as preposterous, Khojeste Mistree, a former trustee of the Bombay Parsee Punchayat and a religious scholar said, “The Atash Behrams are absolutely integral to our religion, and are the highest places of worship a Zoroastrian can go to. The customs and traditions are based on theology. Therefore, even if the scriptures are lost, the customs keep the religion alive,” he said.

MMRCL needs more time

Meanwhile, the out-of-court meeting between representatives of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) and the Parsi community, also scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed, after the former asked for more time to prepare themselves.