Iranian Zarathushti describes how Parsis Saved them From Extinction in Iran
Most middle-aged and younger Iranian Zarathushtis do not know in their history about how Parsis of India saved their ancestors from extinction in Iran, so it is gratifying to see that an article written by an Iranian-American, Dr. Daryoush Jahanian, MD, has been included in the Summer 2009 issue No. 151 of the magazine CHEHREHNAMA, which is published by the California Zoroastrian Center (CZC) of Westminster, California. I have personally met and discussed community issues with Dr. Jahanian two years ago in Kansas City and have a lot of respect for him.
Many middle-aged Iranian Zarathushtis have wrong beliefs about Parsis, such as, that they abandoned Iran to live a better life in India, or that they became Hindus during their stay in India, etc., and some tend to look down on Parsis as a result. They are unaware of how Parsis sacrificed their homes and assets in Iran and faced unknown dangers in a foreign land, travelling the stormy seas in simple, rickety sailing ships, and overcame centuries of hardships to settle down among people of different cultures, in order to preserve their religion from being wiped out.
And many Iranian Zarathushtis also do not know about how Parsis of India have freely (at no charge for maintenance, etc.) opened their homes, temples, charities and subsidized housing in colonies in India, to Zarathushtis migrating from Iran over the centuries. So we have to thank CZC officials, editor of Chehrehnama and Dr. Daryoush Jahanian for educating readers and promoting mutual respect and unity between the Parsi and Irani communities in North America.
The article is titled “The History of Zoroastrians After Arab Invasion Part II” and it can be accessed online at the website www.czcjournal. org. Following are relevant excerpts from that article for your information:
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“….The victorious Afghans were eventually defeated by … Nader Shah Afshar (1736 -1747 A.D.) who also defeated the Ottomans…. In the army of Nader 12000 Zoroastrian men served….But even the victories of Nader ….did not change the fate of the Zoroastrian population and their agony went on. Nader upon return from India became insane …. resorted to mass murder. By one estimate during the bloodbath none of the remaining Zoroastrian soldiers survived and many of the Zoroastrian population of Khorasan and Sistan were massacred… . The public census of the Zoroastrians of Kerman belonging to this era shows that 8000 were called Khorassani and 2000 Sistani…..
The Qajar Era (1796-1925 A.D.) The census of early Qajar era indicated that the total population of Zoroastreians was 50,000 and they had taken refuge mainly in two central cities of Yazd and Kerman…… the Zoroastrians during the Qajar dynasty remained in agony and their population continued to decline…. The community was regarded as outcast, impure and untouchable. …..
Various methods were used to convet them to Islam. According to a law, if any member of family converted to Islam, he/she was entitled to all inheritance. According to Edward Browne, the wall of Zoroastrian houses had to be lower than that of the Moslems. If they were riding a donkey, upon facing a Moslem had to dismount. The Zoroastrian food was considered impure and many public places refused to serve them….At times, Zoroastrian girls were kidnapped and forcefully converted and married to Moslems…On top of all the misery the Zoroastrians had to pay a heavy religious tax known as Jizya. Due to corruption.. . at times twice and even three times the official figure would be collected… If the families could not afford paying the Jizya, their children were beaten and even tortured and their religious books were thrown in fire. That is how the term “the bookless” came about.
Under the woeful conditions, some had to convert and there were those who declared themselves Moslems, picked up Islamic names, but in secret continued Zoroastrian practices. Today the latter group among the Zoroastrians is known as Jaddid (new). Count de Gobineau, the French Ambassador to Iran (1850s A.D.) expressed a pessimistic view of the Zoroastrians that reflects the plight of the community during the Qajar era. .He writes “Only 7000 of them remain and just a miracle may save them from extinction” He adds, “These are the descendants of the people who one day ruled the world.”….
Zoroastrian massacre did not cease during the Qajar rule. The last two are recorded at the villages surrounding the city of Borazjan and Turkabad near Yazd. Today, the village of Maul Seyyed Aul near Borazjan, among the local people is known as “killing site” (Ghatl – Gauh), and Zoroastrian surnames of Turk, Turki, Turkian and Turkabad reflect lineage to the survivors of Turkabad.
To present a true picture of Zoroastrian life in that era, I will quote several writers ( Napier Malcom: 1905, Dr. Rostam Sarfeh: Parsiana, March 1990, Page 43, Khosrow Bastanifar: at last I return to Yazd, 1996, P.192 in Persian)…. .. The misery of Zoroastrians is beyond description. Some even converted to Islam to be able to protect their old co-religionists. Due to the extent of opression, agony and destitution, many Zoroastrians ventured the hazardous journey to India. They had to risk their lives by crossing the hostile desert on donkeys or even on foot. Those who could afford voyaged aboard the ships.
In India, they were recognized for Sadra and Kushti and were sheltered by their Parsi brethren. …… The woeful plight of the Zoroastrians caused the Parsis to dispatch emissaries to Iran. The notable one, Maneckji Limji Hataria arrived for the first time on March 31, 1854 A.D. at the age of 41. For one year he studied the general condition of the persecuted community. He found the Zoroastrians to be uneducated and suffered from endemic deseases and malnutrition. Worse than all, centuries of oppression and persecution had taken a heavy toll on their spirit. The community had no confidence in herself and no hope for the future. Maneckji upon return to India reported his findings to the Parsi Panchayet. This is truly a historical document, part of which is quoted hereunder:
Dear Sir; This noble group has suffered in the hands of cruel and evil people so much that they are totally alien to knowledge and science. For them even black and white , and good and evil are equal. Their men have been forcefully doing menial works in the construction and as slaves receive no payment. As some evil and immoral men have been looking after their women and daughters, this sector of Zoroastrian community even during daytime stays indoor. Despite all the poverty, heavy taxes under the pretexts of land, space, pasture land; inheritance and religious tax (Jizya) are imposed on them. The local rulers have been cruel to them and have plundered their possessions. They have forced the men to do the menial construction work for them. Vagrants have kidnapped their women and daughters. Worse than all, community is disunited. Their only hope is the advent of future savior (Shah Bahram Varjavand). Because of extreme misery, belief in the savior is so strong that 35 years earlier when an astrologer forecasted the birth of the savior, many men in his search left the town and were lost in the desert and never returned. Perhaps this one sentence of Maneckji epitomizes the sorry plight of the community. “I found the Zoroastrians to be exhausted and trampled, so much that even no one in this world can be more miserable than them.”
Amelioration fund was set up and from its interest income part of the Jizya was paid off. Once again Maneckji returned to Iran. This time he devoted his life toward saving his co-religionists from the brink of extinction. He followed three goals: To educate the community, to organize them and to abolish the burden of Jizya. He was a charming man who rallied the support of Dadabhoy Naoroji and some of the European ambassadors to eliminate the injustice suffered by so many Zoroastrian generations in Iran. Severak times he intervened in the unfair court rulings and forced them to reverse the unjust decisions. At that time if a Moslem murdered a Zoroastrian, the culprit would automatically be freed. If a Moslem borrowed money from a Zoroastrian and denied it, court would side with the Moslem. On the other hand, if a Zoroastrian borrowed from a Moslem and could not afford paying back, court would force his relatives, neighbors and friends to raise funds and defray the loan. In his pursuit of educating the community, Maneckji faced unexpected difficulties for the following reasons:
1. The Zoroastrians for centuries had been prohibited from receiving education, just to be content with subsisting on menial jobs. The change of direction was difficult and even some believed that education will cause them not to be able to work and earn money.
2. The children worked and their dismal income nevertheless, subsidized the family. The families could not afford the loss of income.
3. The parents missed their children and they were not ready to send them away.
4. Some Zoroastrian leaders became envious of Maneckji, even saying that education will deprive the community of future workers who can make a living.; some were even envious of children who will receive better education than they did.
Despite all the obstacles Maneckji prevailed and picked up boys from Kerman and Yazd, took them to Tehran and founded a boarding school for them. He even subsidized the families for the loss of their children’s income. To teach them, Maneckji published books and employed the best scholars, some of whom were educated in Europe. From these children, future teachers evolved, who were scattered in the cities of Yazd and Kerman and Zoroastrian villages and educated the community. The result is that today illiteracy rate among the Zoroastrian population is near zero. With Maneckji’s encouragement and support, marriages took place and jobs were provided for the newly wed couples.
His historical acheivement was the abolishment of the religious tax ( Jizya ). Maneckji, throught the direct negotiations with the Qajar King, Nassereddin Shah pesuaded him to abolish the burden of Jizya and that took place in August of 1882 A.D. Through the enticement and direct involvement of Maneckji and his successor, Zoroastrians later formed local associations named after the then king, Nasseri Anjumans.
I would like to quote the late Dr. Adarbad Irani, the famous Bombay opthalmologist: “Words fall short of expression, we must devote our love and warm tears to our Parsi brothers who at the most critical time came to our rescue.” The loving memory of Maneckji among the Zoroastrians of Iran is perpetual. We name our sons Msneckji, Limji and many families have chosen his name as surname as ” Maneckji, Maneckjian, and Maneckjipour. ” If it was not for his dedication and selfless efforts, perhaps the Zoroastrian religion had vanished in its country of origin. If we believe in the word “saoshyant” as benefactor, isn’t he the one who saved the Zoroastrians of Iran from extinction ? Now, after centuries of suffering, the Zoroastrians began to enjoy the breeze of relative freedom and even under the unequal opportunities they proved their talents and abilities… ……… …
In 1932 a Parsi delegation met with Reza Shah and expressed their appreciation for all the acheivements, he replied ” all that you have said is correct, whatever I have done is for my country, but you tell me what you can do for your original homeland.”
The Shah invited Parsis to come and settle in the country of your ancestors. We will welcome you with open arms.
Parsis at this time founded two high schools (Anooshiravan Dadgar for girls and Firooz-Bahram for boys.) These schools have graduated many Iranian scholars, professionals, leaders and statesmen who always have cherished their memories of studying there. Parsis also contributed to founding schools in the Zoroastrian villages of Yazd.
They also established clinics and dispatched Parsi physicians. The reason was not only to treat the patients who suffered from endemic deseases and malnutrition, but because the Zoroastrian patients even in medical fields were regarded as impure and untouchable and were mistreated by the crew. Actually some medical facilities did not accept Zoroastrian patients, consequently in their own homeland they were alien and ailing, and died young because of bigotry. The Parsi-founded clinics, howeve, delivered service equally to all patients at need regardless of religion. They remained in operation until Goodarz Hospital was founded by the Goodarz ( Jahanian – Varza) brothers in Yazd……. Once the hospital became operational, the Parsi clinics were transferred to the Red Lion and Sun organization.
The late Peshotan Marker is to be mentioned who founded Marker (known as Markar) Foundation that includes boarding schools. These schools were managed and directed by the late Soroush Lohrasp who recently passed away…….. .
Two Mobeds educated from Cama Athornan Madressa, exercised an effective role in the religious leadership and education of the community. The Zoroastrians are well recognized as the genuine Iranians and respected for the reputation of scrupulous honesty….. . In 1971 a young Parsi in Iran told me that he had applied for several jobs. The Presidents of the companies had told him that they had other applicants but because he was a Zoroastrian, they were giving him priority…. .
The Zoroastrians in spite of all the hardships and indignities suffered by their ancestors will always remain patriotic to Iran. It is interesting that the Parsis of India even after a thousand years living in India look toward Iran as their true homeland. ….”