For India’s Parsis, hope comes from Karachi


A recent decision by the Karachi’s apex Parsi trust to give children of women married to non-Zoroastrians the right to adopt their mother’s religion has generated interest in Mumbai where the community is still divided over the issue.
The Karachi Parsi Anjuman Trust Fund, the counterpart of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), passed a resolution saying if one marital partner is a practising Zoroastrian, children of such marriages can be initiated into the religion. The trust has also permitted funeral rituals on their premises for all Zoroastrians, even those who opt for cremation and burial.
In Mumbai, the orthodox and reformist sections in the community have differences on the issues. A few years ago, the BPP banned two priests from the Towers of Silence and fire temples because they had been conducting Navjotes or religious initiation of children born to Parsi women married to non-Zoroastrians. The priests were also accused of breaking tradition by conducting the after-death ceremonies of Zoroastrians who opted for non-traditional funerals. The issue is being heard in court.
In 2006, a 65-year-old Parsi woman, Dhun Baria caused a furore in her community when she began to circulate a video of corpses rotting at Doongerwadi, Malabar Hill’s Towers of Silence. She was shocked to be told that the body of her mother had lain untouched for nine months after she was laid to rest at the Towers of Silence.
For centuries, the Zoroastrian dead have been wrapped in white muslin and left at a leafy, funeral ground in Mumbai’s Malabar Hill, where they are devoured by vultures. But with only a handful of the critically-endangered birds remaining in Mumbai, authorities installed solar panels three years ago to dry out the bodies and speed up decomposition.
Anahita Desai of World Alliance of Parsi-Irani Zarthoshtis, a group representing orthodox views said, “While I cannot comment on the resolution, Parsis in India have traditional views on the issue. Even at the BPP polls, every candidate has to project orthodox views… This shows the community wants to go with the old rules.
Reformist groups like the Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism (ARZ) welcomed the Karachi resolution. “It is a right step in the direction to achieve the Zoroastrian motto of equality,’ said Vispy Wadia of ARZ.
Byram Avari, chairman of the KPATF was not available for comment. But in a reply to a letter published in Mumbai-based community magazine Parsiana, he said while Karachi’s Parsis were not consulted for their views, the resolution did not evoke any protests from community members or priests.
According to Sunnu Golwalla, a Karachi resident, the community generally had a liberal attitude to the issue of rights to women married to non-Zoroastrians.
“Personally, I am conservative and do not welcome the resolution. But, I think the average Parsi in Karachi is open-minded. They want Parsi women married outside the community to have the right to initiate their children to the religion,” said Golwalla.
But Golwalla said she was doubtful priests in Karachi will agree to do Navjotes of children with a non-Zoroastrian father.