MUMBAI: In an open letter to the community, seven Parsi high priests have condemned both conversion and interfaith marriages. While acknowledging that several issues plague the community—not the least of which is its dwindling population—they have written, “The solution to our current issue does not lie in cutting out the very basis of Zoroastrianism and allowing widespread conversion and mixed marriages thus, diluting our Zoroastrian identity.”
Article by Nergish Sunavala | Times of India
The letter is a result of a speech made by former state advocate-general Darius Khambata at the recently-concluded Iranshah Udvada Utsav. “Every source tells us Zoroastrianism is universal,” he had said at the Utsav. “Anybody can convert to Zoroastrianism.” A few days ago, Khambata clarified he wasn’t proposing a policy of mass conversion, but had simply mentioned this well-established principle of “universality” to strengthen his case for the acceptance of children born to Parsi mothers and non-Parsi fathers into the faith.
He reiterated his stand to TOI, “My speech was in the context of Parsi women married outside the faith and their children, and my opinion was that they should be permitted to enter our places of worship if they have been initiated into the faith through a ‘navjote’ ceremony. I do not advocate any policy of conversion.”
At the Utsav, the audience had assumed that Khambata was suggesting that fire temples be thrown open to all converts. Many consider this a far more controversial statement than his current clarified stance. Despite this, Udvada’s head priest and the organizer of the Utsav, Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, strongly defended Khambata’s right to express a different point of view. Dastoor’s stance was applauded by liberals, who saw him as a “beacon of hope” for the community. Many are disappointed that he, too, has signed the letter.
Bombay Parsi Punchayet Chairman Yazdi Desai supported the letter. “It is a strong, no-nonsense message to the community,” he wrote to TOI, “and is necessary to keep some insane elements in check who want to tinker around with the centuries-old, ethno-religious character of our Parsi-Zoroastrian community.”
But liberal Parsis were upset by the turn of events. “It is a real shame. It is totally retrograde,” said Jehangir Patel, the editor of community magazine Parsiana. “You may be a priest and have orthodox views, but you have to look at the needs of your community—38% are marrying out. How can you ignore this?”