In Hong Kong, a Once Prominent Parsi Community Faces Demise

The Star Ferry crosses Hong Kong Harbour on May 31, 2013. The ferry service was started in the late 19th century by a Parsi, Dorabjee Naorjee Mithaiwala.

Each Oct. 12, Homyar Nasirabadwala, the gaunt, white-haired priest of Hong Kong’s Parsi community, pays a visit to the University of Hong Kong to conduct a brief ceremony of thanks on the birthday of its founding benefactor. Standing alone with his head bowed, in a crepuscular corridor next to a broad, stone staircase, he looks up at a bronze bust of Sir Hormusjee Nowrojee Mody, a Parsi who was the principal donor of funds for the university’s establishment in 1911. The priest raises his arms and hangs a garland around the bust, whispering a prayer as he does so.

Today, remnants of Hong Kong’s Parsi connection are everywhere. There’s a Mody Road, Kotewall Road and a Bisney Road. You’ll find a Ruttonjee Hospital in Happy Valley and a gleaming office tower, Parekh House, in the Central business district. A Parsi, Dorabjee Naorjee Mithaiwala, was behind the establishment of the iconic Star Ferry. As well as coughing up the cash for the university, Mody was a benefactor of the Kowloon Cricket Club and its first president. The Parsis also played an instrumental role in the founding of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in 1864.

However, academics and members of this tight-knit community say that apathy on the part of the Hong Kong public, and within the Parsi community itself, means that a distinctive ethnic and religious community that played a pivotal role in building modern Hong Kong is in danger of fading away.

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  • I am a Parsi and feel very sad when I read articles like this.

    I feel the problem with my community is that we have lost our connectivity, the will to help each other and to raise each other to prosperity and maybe this is one of the main reasons we are diminishing.

    I live in the UK where the Parsi community’s contributions are second to none. There are approximately 3000 Parsis in the UK and we are considered Britain’s most successful minority community having the first 64 Knights of the realm, the first three Baronets and the first three MPs from the minority communities being Parsis in the 1800’s. In recent times producing talents like Freddie Mercury and Parsi businesses employing over 55000 people in the form of Jaguar Land Rover, British Steel, Tetley Tea and Cobra Beer to name but a few. And yet as the average man in the street what a Parsi is and they would be oblivious.

    I personally would love to live and work in Hong Kong or India where the Parsis have made major contributions but I hear, especially about India, that there is reverse discrimination faced by Parsis in Parsi companies due to the fact that these companies do not want to be seen a communal. I hear this but wish it were not the case and maybe one day I will return to find out the true situation. I sincerely believe we should help our own first before helping others and maybe the decline in my community’s numbers can be stemmed. Afterall we Parsis are descended from refugees who fled Persia to escape the forced Islamisation, we came with a common goal to preserve our identity and yet it seems the modern stalwarts of the community have forgotten this and have neglected our present and future generations.

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    • With due respect to your statement, about reverse discrimination is ABSOLUTELY TRUE, particularly in bigger companies and mainly in the biggest Conglomerate of India. In today’s world especially in India as I am from India, to be a Parsi is a very unfortunate thing. Inspite of your qualifications you are a BIG ZERO. This is the main reason why I have seen so many high qualified Parsis joining the above Conglomerate and finding themselves being side stepped in everything. Hence, many of them have emigrated abroad and do not want to do anything with this foolish community which has back stabbed them. You do not know what a sad and unfortunate situation, I and many others like me have to face. This does not include influential Parsis.

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