Virtusa Corporation Supports Restoration of the Iconic B.J.P.C Institution
Mr. Rustom N.B, Trustee of the BJPC Institution and Mr. Santosh Thomas, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Virtusa Corporation unveiling the coffee table book at the successful completion of the restoration project of the Institution in Mumbai today – Photo By GPN
Mr. Ram M, Chief Technology Officer, Virtusa Corporation, Swwapnil Joshi, Actor and Alumni BJPCI, during the unveiling of the Plaque after the completion of the restoration of the Institution in Mumbai today – Photo By GPN
Mr. Rustom N.B, Trustee of the BJPC Institution Lighting the Ceremonial Lamp – Photo By GPN
Virtusa Corporation and the Trustees of the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Parsee Charitable Institution (B.J.P.C.I) jointly unveil a Landmark Restoration.
Virtusa Corporation alongwith The Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Parsee Charitable Institution (B.J.P.C.I) celebrated The Grand Unveiling Ceremony of the Renovated B.J.P.C.I Facilities and A Captivating Coffee Table Book – Unwrapping The Story of a Landmark Restoration in presence of Swwapnil Joshi, Indian Film & Television Actor & alumni; Mr. Santosh Thomas, CEO, Virtusa Corporation and Mr. Rustom N.B. Jeejeebhoy, Trustees of The B.J.P.C Institution today Thursday, 9th November 2023 at Venue:The B.J.P.C Institution, Maharishi Karve Marg, Opp Charni Road Station, Girgaon, Mumbai – 400004.
MUMBAI, 9th NOVEMBER, 2023(GPN) – Virtusa Corporation, a leading provider of digital engineering, and technology services through its philanthropic arm, Virtusa Foundation, is pleased to announce the successful completion of the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Parsee Charitable Institution (B.J.P.C.I) Heritage School Restoration Project. The restoration of this iconic institution not only preserves a vital piece of history but also underscores Virtusa’s commitment to fostering education, empowering future generations, and contributing to a sustainable environment.
Furthermore, Swwapnil Joshi, renowned actor and an esteemed alumnus of the B.J.P.C.I, graced the event with his presence. In addition, Santosh Thomas, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Virtusa Corporation, Amit Bajoria, Chief Finance Officer, Virtusa Corporation, Ram Meenakshisundaram, Chief Technology Officer, Virtusa Corporation and the B.J.P.C.I trustees together unveiled the captivating Coffee Table Book – “Unwrapping The Story of a Landmark Restoration,” making the event a truly exceptional and meaningful occasion.
At the event, Santosh Thomas, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of Virtusa Corporation, emphasized,“It has been a great privilege for Virtusa to collaborate with the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Parsee Charitable Institution (B.J.P.C.I) in the restoration of this historic structure. As a company that believes strongly in social responsibility, this project aligns with our corporate sustainability ethos.”
He continued, “The Virtusa Foundation has built a comprehensive program to foster access to education for over 15 years. These initiatives have benefitted over 20,000 students. Today, with the restoration of this 132-year-old beautiful structure, we are able to mark another milestone in this mission that will benefit students and society for generations. The opportunity to support the restoration of this iconic building and preserve a piece of history that will provide opportunity to young minds will always be cherished. It has been an honour to help the B.J.P.C.I safeguard this mission so that the dreams of countless students can be fostered for years to come.”
Founded in 1891, the B.J.P.C.I holds an esteemed position in the annals of Mumbai’s cultural and educational history. Nestled at 33, M. Karve Marg, this architectural masterpiece stands as a cornerstone of the city’s rich heritage. The B.J.P.C.I is recognized as a heritage structure in Mumbai and was the recipient of The Urban Heritage Award in 1993 for being the “Best Preserved Monumental Building”.
Key highlights of the B.J.P.C Institution and the restoration project include:
Historical Significance: With a legacy spanning 132 years, the B.J.P.C.I stands as one of Mumbai’s oldest educational institutions, making significant contributions to the city’s academic landscape.
Architectural Marvel: The institution’s heritage building, designed by Master Architect Khan Bahadur Muncherji C. Murzban follows the Gothic Revival style and boasts unique teakwood screens and coloured glass elements.
Academic Excellence: The B.J.P.C.I offers a comprehensive educational program spanning from kindergarten to senior classes, serving over 1400 students. The institution consistently maintains an impressive 100% success rate in board exams, which stands as a testament to its steadfast commitment to academic excellence.
Amit Bajoria, Chief Finance Officer, Virtusa Corporation, echoed this sentiment, said, “Revitalizing a heritage school like the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Parsee Charitable Institution (B.J.P.C.I) not only preserves its rich legacy but also empowers future generations.”
He further added, “Our participation in this initiative has brought us great satisfaction, and the accomplishment strongly aligns with the core pillars of the Virtusa Foundation: enhancing access to education, preserving our environment, and empowering society.”
Rustom N.B, Trustee of The B.J.P.C institution, expressed gratitude, said, “Virtusa, our collaborators, have generously financed the restoration and renovation of the building. Their patience and timely input of funds made the difference between old and the freshly renovated appearance of our building. This building is a rarity in our city, and we are happy and honoured to say it will be sent as an entry for the UNESCO Heritage award by our architect. A resounding thanks to Virtusa Corporation from the trustees, staff, and students of The B.J.P.C.I.”
Through strategic partnerships and active community engagement, the Virtusa Foundation is dedicated to addressing societal challenges while paving the way for a brighter future. Virtusa employs an “Engineering First” approach to creative problem-solving, which empowers individuals and communities to enhance social outcomes for all. This approach is what Virtusa refers to as “Engineering with Purpose.”
Virtusa Corporation is a global provider of digital business strategy, digital engineering, and information technology (IT) services and solutions that help clients change, disrupt, and unlock new value through innovative engineering. Virtusa serves Global 2000 companies in Banking, Financial Services, Insurance, Healthcare, Communications, Media, Entertainment, Travel, Manufacturing, and Technology industries.
Virtusa helps clients grow their business with innovative products and services that create operational efficiency using digital labor, future-proof operational and IT platforms, and rationalization and modernization of IT applications infrastructure. This is achieved through a unique approach blending deep contextual expertise, empowered agile teams, and measurably better engineering to create holistic solutions that drive the business forward at unparalleled velocity enabled by a culture of cooperative disruption.
Virtusa is a registered trademark of Virtusa Corporation. All other company and brand names may be trademarks or service marks of their respective holders.
A Century of Tranquility Amidst Mumbai’s Hustle and Bustle
This month, the colony holds its centennial celebrations.
Malcolm Baug Parsi Housing Colony: A Century of Tranquility Amidst Mumbai’s Hustle and Bustle | Manoj Ramakrishnan/FPJ
Mumbai: As you exit the traffic-clogged S V Road near Jogeshwari railway station and enter the metal arches of the Malcolm Baug Parsi housing colony, you leave the noise and busyness of the city behind. The air temperature drops by degrees, and the smell of soot is replaced by the aroma of vegetation warming in the sun. The lanes, lined with early-twentieth-century bungalows and cottages, have a languid charm to them. The city’s Parsis call it a ‘hill station’ in the middle of Mumbai.Later this month, the colony will hold its centennial celebrations. The festivities will be low-key, and invitations are only for people who stay in the colony and former occupants. The residents do not want to invite the hustle and bustle of the city that surrounds them.
The colony was planned by N M Wadia Charities on the lines of the ‘Garden Suburbs’ that were being developed in London in the early 20th century. The first building and bungalow were inaugurated in November 1922. Like the other planned housing layouts such as Dadar-Wadala and Sion-Matunga, Malcolm Baug was the result of an idea to decongest the crowded localities in the southern part of the city that bore the brunt of epidemics sweeping the world in the late 18th and early 20th century. A plague epidemic, which had traveled across the world, is estimated to have killed more than 20,000 people and created an exodus out of the city. In 1898, the city created Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT), two years after the plague.
BIT took over vacant lands north of the city and created mixed-use layouts with planned roads, gardens, and public facilities. The book ‘N M Wadia and His Foundation’, first printed in 1961, links this history of the city to that of Malcolm Baug. An appendix to the book states: “During the early years of the twentieth century, Bombay appeared to be one of the most ill-fated cities in the world. The root of all the evils from which people suffered – insanitation and disease, malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, plague – was acute house-famine, the concomitant of overcrowding. With a view to striking at the root of the malady for which the existing agency of the Bombay Municipality was not considered adequately equipped, a special agency, namely, the Bombay Improvement Trust, was created for the wholesale reconstruction of the city.”
Parsis were then a significant section of the population of Mumbai and were among those who needed more housing. The trustees of the N M Wadia Charities liked the idea of the new urban plans sweeping the city and decided to create a colony for ‘poor and ill-housed’ Parsis. They chose Amboli village near Jogeshwari railway station as the location for the ‘salubrious’ colony. The colony consists of apartments and also plots for single homes.
Around 300 families now live in the estate. Most residents will not live anywhere else. “I was born and brought up in this colony. I will not live anywhere else,” said a resident who ran a data center. “Where else in this city will you get such green patches and serenity? It is close to the railway station, and there is a fire temple. It is self-sufficient,” said the resident.
One resident who moved into the colony in 1991 after marriage said, “When you enter the colony, you will forget that you are in Mumbai.”
Others who moved out reluctantly share a nostalgia for the place. One reader wrote in the Parsiana magazine: “The Malcolm Baug of my long-ago memories was a self-sufficient world. It was a little Parsi republic whose citizens did not have to step outside its borders for their daily needs if they did not want to. The pauwallo brought bread. The eedawallo brought eggs. The machhiwalli brought fish. The goswallo brought mutton. The tarkariwalli brought vegetables. The doodhwallo brought milk. The paperwallo brought the morning Times, Express, or Free Press Journal. The mochi fixed shoes. The dhobi picked up the dirty laundry.”
Trustees of the N M Wadia Charities did not respond to messages and calls for a comment. The centenary celebrations will be spread over November 18 and 19, and there are no invites for ‘outsiders’.
A Day of Celebration The 7th Salgreh of the Zoroastrian Association of California‘s Atash Kadeh was celebrated with great religious fervor and Parsi gusto on the 12th of November. The celebration started a day in advance with deep cleaning of the premises by volunteers Freny Bacha, Vira & Burjor Santoke, Dhun & Ketty Alamshaw, Jimmy Colabewala, Firoze Avari, Xerxes, Zane & Zara Commissariat, Ruzbe, Zubin & Farzan Daruwalla, Mehernosh Pithawalla, Kerman & Annu Dangore, Khushroo Dubash & Zerkxis & Zarrir Bhandara.
On the day of Salgreh, in the wee hours of the morning, the Chowks were done by Annu & Kerman Dungore, the hars and Torans were made by Rukshana Colabewala. A Hama Anjuman maachi was offered to Atashpadshah in all five gehs. A Jashan was performed in the morning by Ervads Ardaviraf Minocheherhomji, Kyan Arzan Lali, & Zerkxis, and Zarir Bhandara which was attended by about 75 Zoroastrians.
The ZAC Cleaning crew
The ZAC Youth in Action
The Importance of Service After the Jashan, Zarrir thanked the donors Hootoxi and Dr. Ervad Ardaviraf Minocheherhomji who also sponsored the celebrations, and gave a brief talk explaining the terms:
Agiyary: A Sanskrit word meaning “Agni rakhvani jagya” which means Atashkadeh in Persian, which can store either of the three grades of fires Dadgah, Adaran and Atash Behram fire.
Dadgah fire: The ZAC Ataskadeh which houses the dadgah fire, which was duly consecrated under the guidance of Dasturji Dr. Firoze M. Kotwal.
He stressed the importance of service, saying serving our community and humanity in general is serving God. Further, he stressed the importance of focusing on our feelings, emotions, that we derive from experiences, as we are living, feeling beings, by transforming our feelings, we can transform our thoughts, words, deeds, and our life.
A Time for Reflection After which, he invited Ervad Dr. Minocheherhomji to speak, who said:
Anybody can donate money, but the important thing is the serving, which these ervads do so devotedly and the community coming here to pray. By quoting the Jasameavanghe Mazda prayer, he said:
We are peace-loving, bridge-building community. Hence, it is important that we stay united and spread peace in the world by decreasing the negativity and increasing the positivity quoting from the Haft Amshaspand Afrin. Further, he spoke about “Ossmoi oozaresva Ahura” Which means “You unfold to me, be with me Ahura, and if God is with you, you don’t need anyone else”and Ushtano Zato Athrav Yo Zarathushtra” meaning “the whole creation rejoiced at the birth of Asho Zarathushtra, that is how great our prophet is” engraved in Rustom Framna Agiyary Dadar, Mumbai
A Community Comes Together At the conclusion, ZAC President Mrs. Rooky Fitter thanked the then President Mrs. Tehmi Damania and the ZAC community for their stupendous team work and that we have come a long way and we can continue to progress further unitedly.
A Delicious Feast Afterward, the chashni was served along with the delicious compassionate Pulav Dal prepared by Reshma Rustomi, Ravo by Xerxes commissariat, and Flan by Dhun & Ketty Alamshaw, Fruits- Freny Bacha. The afternoon ended with merriment and laughter by the ZAC members. Everyone had a great time, and it was the perfect way to end the event.
WZO Trust Funds unveiled a portrait of Late Mrs. Scylla Vatcha at their Bai Maneckbai P. B. Jeejeebhoy Senior Citizens Centre at Navsari on 20th October 2023 in the presence of residents, trustees, administration & staff.
For us at the Centre, we consider Mrs. Scylla Vatcha to be our patron Saint. She was also philanthropist and benefactor to thousands of Zoroastrians, a legend in her lifetime who will never be forgotten.
After the portrait was unveiled, Mr. Dinshaw Tamboly spoke to the gathering and informed all about the very interesting sequence of events that led to the establishment of the Centre.
In Dinshaw Tamboly’s words:
“It was sometime in 1992 that a Parsi gentleman, working with Central Bank of India, came to meet me at my office and conveyed that he was single, had no relatives and due to retire in 1995. He mentioned that upon his retirement, he would seek my assistance to help him locate a suitable house at Navsari that he would purchase from the terminal benefits that he would receive, where he could spend his retired life in the company of five to six healthy Parsis of his age group, who like him were single.
I conveyed to him that I would help him in his quest; he was so keen that he began to visit me at my office ever so often and kept on reminding me of my commitment. Finally, in 1995 when he did retire, he asked me to begin scouting for suitable premises. After a bit of effort, a suitable house was located and he was informed to meet the owner and finalize the terms.
That was the last I heard of the gentleman; he seemed to have simply vanished into thin air, not accepting the few reminder ‘phone calls that I made to him.
It is truly said that wonders are performed by Divinity in mysterious ways. Just a couple of days after we had given up on the gentleman and his project, Bachi & I were invited to a social gathering at the residence of late Thrity & Homi Taleyarkhan, where Scylla was also present.
During the course of our conversation, we mentioned to her about our experience with the concerned gentleman. Scylla being the dynamic and vibrant person she was requested us to meet her a couple of days later at her residence.
At that fateful meeting at her residence, Scylla informed Bachi & me that she saw merit in what the gentleman had conceived and conveyed to us to prepare a project for a facility that could be established at Navsari where ‘Zoroastrian Senior Citizens’ who were healthy and active, capable of looking after their biological needs could reside with self-respect and dignity.
She made it very clear that the concept she had in mind was not that of an infirmary, as such facilities were already available at Mumbai, Surat & Navsari.
Scylla laid down three basic conditions, viz. that the facility should be planned in a predominantly Parsi precinct, should be close to a shopping area, and be near to an Agiyari.
Providence is known to create opportunities for things done with good intent. Within a few days, we were fortunate to locate suitable premises that met all the three conditions laid down. We prepared a blue print for the project, had rough architectural plans and costs prepared and presented them to Scylla. In true style, in keeping with her dynamism, Scylla approved the project within a fortnight and gave us the green signal to go ahead with purchasing the property, appoint an architect, float tenders, obtain quotations for construction, and put the project in fast forward mode.
The entire project from purchasing property, constructing the entire building, bearing cost of furniture, fixtures and furnishing were all borne by the Trustees of Bai Maneckbai P. B. Jeejeebhoy Deed of Settlement Fund.
Construction of the Centre began in mid-1995 and the magnificent structure spread over ground + five floors (20,000 sq. feet) was ready for occupation by end 1997. The Centre was formally opened on January 06, 1998 in the presence of large number of guests and media in attendance.
Scylla being the visionary she was, had foreseen that some residents as they progress in age would become bed ridden and unable to continue residing at the Centre and their families too would not be able to look after them. She therefore whilst the Centre was being constructed arranged for construction of a separate building at the Parsi Infirmary at Navsari, where our residents could be shifted under their care. Such was dear Scylla – A Woman of Stature & Substance”.
After the unveiling of the portrait and the genesis shared by Dinshaw Tamboly, some of the residents spoke about their life changing experiences at the Centre and showered their appreciation upon Scylla Vatcha, who was the visionary behind the creation of such a vibrant institution
The Centre has since its opening been a vibrant institution, blessed to be generally running to full occupancy, filled with positive energy, where residents reside in comfort, enjoy a very stress free pleasant life style where they mingle with each other, their needs being catered to the best extent possible.
Our residents are encouraged to go out in the mornings and evenings, a chemist visits them every day to take their orders for medicines that are delivered to them. Physiotherapy and yoga sessions are held every alternate day, residents are taken on outings to our Sanatorium at Sanjan, and from there to Iranshah at Udvada.
Frequent outings in evenings are arranged at various places of interest at Navsari and at times residents are treated to dinner at popular restaurants that provides a change of scene.
In case of illnesses requiring hospitalisation, we have arrangements with D. N. Mehta Sarvajanik Hospital, a leading hospital at Navsari, where we have created a WZO Trust Funds Ward where our residents are provided treatment.
The icing on the cake of the eventful and fulfilling journey that has completed 25 years has been solemnization of two marriages between our residents, one each in 2015 & 2016 which makes us feel proud that their marriages planned in heaven were solemnized at our Centre.
Our merry wagon continues on its journey that puts ‘life in to the days of our residents and not just days into their lives’. We repose confidence that Divinity will continue to bless our residents and our Centre for decades to come
Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC)
The Managing Director
Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB)
We write to you in connection with sewage blockage crises afflicting the Bai Maneckbai Nusserwanji Chenoy Dar-e-Meher (Agiary-Fire Temple) at Tilak Road, Hyderabad. Besides being a place of historical, cultural and architectural significance (it was recognized with the HUDA Heritage Building Award in 2001); more importantly, in this 119 year old Agiary is housed a consecrated fire which is the source of veneration and worship for the Parsi community residing in Hyderabad & Secunderabad.
A consecrated fire is a living pulsating entity who radiates divine energy over long distances and provides spiritual succour and protection to those within its radius. An important and necessary adjunct to an Agiary is the water well in its premises from which water is drawn daily and used for ritual and cleanliness purposes. Infact, before constructing an Agiary, a water source is identified for the construction of a well. It is the site of the well that determines the architectural plan of the fire temple. Consequently, a polluted well brings the workings of a fire temple to a standstill and no ritual work can take place until the well is cleaned and made pure.
The Fire Temple complex also provides a home to 45 Parsi families encompassing over 100 individuals. However, the spiritual stature of the Agiary and the health and lives of the residents have been badly compromised since 2022 when their sewage line, laid over a century ago, was intentionally and unlawfully blocked by Santosh Dhaba, which shares the compound wall. The outlet having been blocked, the sewage water flows right back into the compound of the Agiary, polluting the well water, besides posing a serious health hazard to the residents who are forced to live in unhealthy circumstances and have to personally clean the sewage. Besides the health issues, it is also a sacrilege being committed and affecting the religious sentiments of the entire Parsi community.
Concerned individuals have been forced to raise the matter in the courts of law. While HMWSSB has committed to clearing the sewage by sending tankers, that definitely is not a solution to the problem. The municipal authorities are duty bound to provide adequate civic amenities to residents on a daily basis. Towards that end, you are urged to do all in your power to stop this health hazard and enforce upon Santosh Dhaba to clear the blocked sewage system to allow free outlet. That is within your sphere of authority.
You are well aware of the contribution of the Parsi Zoroastrian community to India. The community now looks upon you to alleviate its problems urgently and restore the sanctity of its holy Agiary and the health of the residents of the place.
Looking forward to a positive and quick action from your end.
In series #ParsiPolis, ThePrint’s Shubhangi Misra and Manisha Mondal report on the ongoing preservation efforts within the Parsi community to save the dying race’s culture, heritage and oral histories.
Since ancient times, human beings have used bells for religious and ceremonial purposes. The earliest unearthed bells are pottery bells from Neolithic China. Bells were also used in ancient Assyria, Babylon, Iran, India, Greece, and Egypt. In many cultures and religions, bells are used during prayers and rituals to cleanse and purify the environment and enhance positive energy.
In spiritual circles, bells are associated with Divinity and believed to ward off negative energy. While bells are usually made of brass or bronze, those made for religious purpose often use several other metals, including cadmium, copper, zinc, nickel, lead, chromium and manganese, in a fixed ratio. This is to enhance the chiming effect.
It is believed that bells are designed such that our brain’s left and right sides unite in harmony when they ring. The sound vibrations of a well-designed bell usually last for about seven seconds. The main purpose of ringing the bell at any place of worship is to awaken the senses, spiritually cleanse the mind and enhance awareness or consciousness.
Bell Of Peace And Freedom
Setting aside the religious import, ringing the bell also signifies freedom. Freedom from bondage. Freedom from ignorance and freedom from unrest and instability. During World War II, all church bells were silenced, and rung only to warn inhabitants of an invasion by enemy troops. When the war ended, bells joyously chimed once again. Also, the Liberty Bell, previously called the State House Bell or Old State House Bell, located in Philadelphia, is an iconic symbol of American independence. Thus, bells also signify peace and independence.
Chinese Chime Bells
Bells are considered auspicious according to Chinese tradition. During major ceremonies and the Chinese New Year, bells are rung one hundred and eight times. This number is an aggregate of twelve months, twenty-four hours and seventy-two climate divisions.
The Bianzhong is an ancient Chinese musical instrument consisting of a set of bronze bells, played melodically. China is believed to be one of the earliest countries in the world to manufacture and use musical chimes. These are called Chime Bells.
Wind chimes have a long and varied history, spanning cultures, continents and uses, with archaeological findings dating back almost five thousand years. In South East Asia, remains of wind chimes made of bone, wood, bamboo, and shells, were found dating back to 3000 BC.
Today wind chimes have become quite popular, thanks to Vastu and Feng Sui. Wind chimes are said to ward off misfortune and usher peace, progress, and prosperity at home and office.
Ancient Buddhist Bell
Bells play a crucial role in a variety of Buddhist services and rituals; the sound is considered auspicious, and is believed to bring peace and comfort to all sentient beings. Buddhists also believe that people have one hundred and eight types of worries, and that striking the bell one hundred and eight times can remove worries from the mind.
A copper alloy bell from the site of the Cheonheungsa Temple, in Korea, is widely regarded as one of the largest and most beautiful bells from the Goryeo period (10- 14th century AD). Experts say that the bell is a masterpiece in terms of manufacturing technique and artistic style.
In Hindu tradition, devotees ring the bell before approaching the deity as a ritual gesture of informing the deity about their arrival and dispelling all negative thought from their minds. In Hindu mythology, the temple bell is the spiritual abode of Divinity. The body of the bell represents ‘ananta’, or infinity. while the tongue or clapper inside, which is used to ring the bell. represents ‘Saraswati’ or knowledge. Striking the bell humbles the devotee reminding him that knowledge is infinite
In the Christian tradition, church bells ring throughout the year to mark important occasions in the life of individuals, the church, or the nation. Bells are rung joyfully at church weddings as also on festive occasions like Easter and Christmas. At funerals, bells are rung half-muffled.
At every consecrated Atash Bahram or Adran, priests perform the Boi ceremony before the Holy fire, five times a day and they strike the bell while reciting the words, ‘Dushmata, Duzukht, Dusvarast’ – rejecting all evil thoughts words and deeds. In aggregate, the bell is struck nine times in the process of reciting Dushmata, Duzukht, Dusvarast three times. Only at the Iranshah Atash Bahram, the bell is struck ten times, with the first bell bringing the congregation to attention. The bell is then struck nine times, as it is, at all other Atash Bahrams. Thus, during the ceremony, the priest rings the bell to drive out evil in thought, word, and deed from this world.
Did you know that the Pahlavi-Pazand term, ‘Boi’ is derived from Avestan ‘baodha’, which mean ‘fragrance.’ This ritual involves offering fragrant wood to the Holy Fire. This ceremony is performed five times a day. At a Dadgah this ceremony must be performed at least once a day.
At most Atash Bahram, Machi consisting of six pieces of sandalwood are arranged in the form of a throne for the Holy Fire or Atash Padshah which is regarded as a Spiritual Monarch. However, at Iranshah Atash Bahram nine pieces of sandal wood are used while at Dadyseth Atash Bahram seven pieces are used. Clearly the Sanjana clan as also the Kadmi and Shehenshahi priests have used slightly different ritual practices.
Number six probably signifies the six good creations and the six stages (Gahambaar) in which Ahura Mazda created this universe and therefore represents completeness. Number seven represents the seven Amesha Spenta and thus represents all seven Divinities, while nine is believed to be the number of perfection and the ninth heaven from which the fire of lightening was derived for consecrating the Holy Iranshah Atash Bahram. Interestingly Asho Zarathushtra is also depicted holding a staff of nine knots, once again indicating the perfection of his spiritual leadership.
When Delhi-based professor Shernaz Cama told the Parsis about the disgrace in which historical accounts were lying at the Meherjirana library, it became an emotional discovery for them.
Navsari/New Delhi: There were tears in Shernaz Cama’s eyes when she stumbled upon a Parsi hidden treasure in the depths of a 120-year-old library in South Gujarat’s Navsari. What she discovered that summer of 1999 wasn’t a cache of gold or precious stones, but ancient Parsi religious texts worth more than a king’s ransom. She carefully unearthed crumbling manuscripts from dusty old wooden almirahs of First Dastoor Meherjirana Library.
“It was the history of an entire community simply vanishing,” says Cama, a professor of English at Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College for Women and co-founder of the NGO Parzor Foundation, which works for the preservation and conservation of Parsi Zoroastrian culture and history.
The Parsi Zoroastrian handwritten manuscripts—some as old as 700 years—in Persian, Urdu, Gujarati, Avestan, Pahlavi and even Sanskrit, were rotting away in these cupboards, victims of India’s nasty habit of not preserving and archiving historical accounts.
Cama’s discovery all those years ago injected an urgency in the small close-knit community that is trying to reverse the tragedy of its slow extinction. For the Parsis, it is a crisis of memory as well as memory-keepers. The loss is at once urgent and historical. They fear that the tangible and intangible threads of their history, culture, philanthropy, and memory would vanish as well. And it has united all factions of the community–the wealthy and the not-so-rich, the young and the old, the traditionalists clinging to the ways of purity and the modernists demanding change.
It was the history of an entire community simply vanishing
– Shernaz Cama,
co-founder, Parzor Foundation
From Mumbai to Hyderabad, and Navsari to Kolkata, photographers are scouring family homes across India for old artefacts, memory-objects and stories to preserve, archive and exhibit history. Researchers and conservationists are preserving parchments. Scripts of plays are being digitised, heritage bungalows and baugs are being restored and oral histories are being recorded for posterity.
Many Parsis around the country have banded together to save their collective consciousness, generously giving away family heirlooms, and writing cheques to researchers and organisations active in this field.
Cama informed the Parsi community about the disgrace in which historical accounts were lying at the library. It became an extremely emotional discovery for Parsis who came together and donated money and expertise to preserve and restore the library as well as its rich literature. Parzor carried out the restoration project with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
Today, the restored farmans of Mughal emperor Akbar, the three volumes of Shahnama, an epic poem by the 10th century Persian poet Ferdowsi, a khayal by Tansen (still under restoration), letters by Abul Fazal who was Akbar’s grand vizier, and other scholarly work in Persian, Urdu, Gujarati, Avestan, Pahlavi and Sanskrit languages are stored in a tiny air-conditioned room in an annexure at Meherjirana Library. There is nowhere else to store them.
Cama’s efforts have also encouraged young researchers from the community to dedicate their careers to their community’s the conservation cause.
UNESCO memory of the world project
A chance conversation in 1999 with Spanish scientist Fredrico Mayor who was the then director general of UNESCO put Cama on the path to discovery. The two spoke at length about the culture, traditions, and heritage of the diminishing Parsi community. The same year UNESCO agreed to sanction $4,500 to a young Cama if she could come up with a project proposal.
“I was told that I would get the money if I could prove that the intangible Parsi heritage is of value to the world, and if the community supported my work,” said Cama. “Back then the world had not understood the value of oral traditions, nor had it realised that we were losing small communities at a rapid pace,” Cama said, sipping Irani tea at her South Delhi bungalow.
Parsi priests across the country gave her letters of support, as did all anjumans and punchayets — governing bodies representing the community. And the Parzor project was born.
“UNESCO’s intangible heritage programme started in 2001, I did my work in 1999. I take pride in saying that I heralded this project!” she said with a smile.
For the last 20 years, Cama has been travelling the length and breadth of India during summer breaks gathering stories, trinkets, and even valuable items. She has collected family portraits, jewellery, recipes, a water filtering system dating back a hundred years, lost songs, sandalwood boxes. She has recorded the processes of making kustis (a sacred Parsi thread), the methods used by bonesetters (chiropractors), as well as torans (a wall hanging made of glass beads), and Parsi embroidery work, among other things.
As Cama continued on her mission, she got support from the government of India, and helped conduct demographic studies on the Parsis, which led to the conception and implementation of the central government’s Jiyo Parsi scheme.
And along the way, she roped in young students, aspiring researchers and photographers to look after various aspects of the preservation efforts. 33-year-old Vanshika Singh,now a PhD scholar,helped in the digitisation of Parsi theatre scripts, while students like Pune-based Freny Daruwalla took up the mantle to record oral histories of members of the community. Ruzbeh Umrigar, a Navsari resident,started conducting heritage tours and walks in Navsari.
Parzor has organised more than 50 photographic and other exhibitions in the country and around the world on Zoroastrian and Parsi culture. They have made movies, published books, conducted workshops on Parsi embroidery, stained glass making and have also made more than 100 presentations on academic and professional writing on Zoroastrian culture and art forms.
Digitised Parsi theatre
Vanshika Singh, then 23, was a sharp, ambitious English literature student at Lady Shri Ram College when she did an internship with Parzor. She was entrusted with one of the most interesting projects: collection and digitisation of Parsi theatre scripts written in Gujarati.
In 2012, when she visited Parsi families in Mumbai she was welcomed. Many people entrusted the young woman with family antiquities, and parted with them towards the larger cause of the community’s history and humanity. These include adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, photographs of old Parsi plays being staged, as well as now long-gone Parsi theatres in Mumbai. Some of the scripts include personal diary of Jehangir Pestonjee Khambata – a thespian of Parsi Theatre, on his voyage to Burma. Other earlier scripts from 1871 to 1875 refer to Harishchandra Natak by KN Kabraji, Jehangir by Adilji Jamshetji.
She interviewed people about the thriving Parsi theatre culture, and returned to Delhi with precious recordings, and two bags full of scripts and photographs on the train back to Delhi.
When I heard the recordings and went through the photographs, I realised the Parsi influence on the development of cities like Mumbai and Kolkata not only shaped them commercially, but culturally as well –
Vanshika Singh, PhD scholar at the National University of Singapore
The digitisation efforts were primarily carried out with the help of the Calcutta Parsi Amateur Dramatics Club and with two separate grants from the Sangeet Natak Ackdemi. Parzor currently has PDFs of digitised scripts in its repository, waiting for a website. Some scripts are with Parzor and some have been returned to the families, according to Singh.
“When I heard the recordings and went through the photographs, I realised the Parsi influence on the development of cities like Mumbai and Kolkata not only shaped them commercially, but culturally as well,” said Singh. “Yes, on the face of it you do have NCPA and other art galleries, but not all developments are grand.”
A lot of the anecdotes and snippets of history she gathered gave her a “micro-view” of the Parsi community and its impact. “You’re left wondering what prompted these communities to create space for cultural expression to thrive,” said Singh who is now doing her PhD in Social and Cultural Geography at the National University of Singapore.
Theatre is an intrinsic part of Parsi cultural identity. It was developed as the earliest form of entertainment, and to date the genre that rules Parsi theatre is comedy. Performed in Parsi Gujarati, they would run ahead of festivals and New Year celebrations, in pavilions set up in colonies or in theatres. But as the Parsi population dwindled, so have these traditions.
“There was a time, till even 5-6 years ago, when I used to perform 5-8 plays before New Year celebrations in Mumbai every year. This year I didn’t even go to perform there,” said theatre actor and Padma Bhushan awardee, Yazdi Karanjia. The living room of his 100-year-old home in Surat is filled with theatre memorabilia and awards earned in his seven decade-long career.
But Karanjia was nevera full-time theatre actor. He taught accountancy, much like many members of the community, who continue family traditions and professions, and provide services to the community while working other jobs.
As a boy, his friends would discourage him from pursuing a career on stage– he was too short for any role. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing his love for the performing arts. He goes on stage for the love of his art, not money. And now, some of the plays that he acted in will be part of the repository.
The scripts were digitised under the advice of scholar Rashna Nicholson, currently professor of theatre studies at University of Hong Kong and Cama. “Conservatism is expensive but digitisation is not so much. By digitising the scripts, we made them accessible to scholars across India and globe,” Singh said.
Singh and the Parzor team digitised 230 scripts over the course of six months in 2015-16 but they haven’t been able to develop a website for them because they lack the funds and resources to organise such lengthy archival work. Even though the scripts have no online home, word has spread across the world. Filmmakers from Australia and California and scholars from SOAS, London and other universities are reaching out to Parzor for PDFs of the scripts.
Recording and archiving are an important part of the process of documenting Parsi history, but for Singh, the fact that others find value in the work is fulfilling. “It leads to a question I think about. For a community like the Parsis, how can we create meaning? What does it want to circulate about itself or beyond it for us to make sense of its history?” Singh said.
Karanjia is not too worried about the future of Parsi theatre.
“As long as a single Parsi remains on the planet, Parsi theatre shall remain alive,” he insists.
Bonesetters, weavers, actors
Like Karanjia, many Parsis perform a ‘service’through which they contribute to the larger community. It’s a family tradition that’s not their main source of income.
Among Navsari’s Parsis there are astrologers, weavers, and even bonesetters (chiropractors) who provide people with alternative ways of healing broken bones. There’s no recorded literature of the techniques they employ, but knowledge passed down from father to son over generations.
“I am the eighth-generation bonesetter in my family, and my son is the ninth. My great great grandfather had gained the knowledge from a seer,” said Bezat Minusuraliwalla from Navsari, adding that he served at Mumbai’s Bhatia Hospital for five years though he doesn’t have a degree in medicine.
At his home in Navsari, he pulls out photographs of his ancestors who helped heal bones of people at a time when plasters, especially, weren’t effective. His knowledge and technique are now part of Parzor project archives.
During one of her many visits to Navsari, Cama recorded how the kusti, the sacred girdle worn by Zoroastrians around the waist, is handwoven by the women of Ava Baug and distributed to other Parsis. Shehnaz Dastoor (50) has been weaving the threads on the mechanised machine at her house for 20 years while humming to old Bollywood music playing in the background.
This is her primary family business–she learnt it from her mother who learnt it from her mother. But her daughters have chosen a different profession, “They don’t enjoy this kind of work. They are well educated and work in MNCs, where they earn significantly more money,” said Dastoor. She weaves the sacred thread for almost 12 hours every day, but is able to earn only Rs 15,000 a month.
As younger generations take up new jobs, recording these traditions becomes even more necessary, said Cama. Only memories will remain, so for archivists like her, there’s an urgency to record.
Oral history recordings
Freny Daruwalla who is in her mid-twenties, grew up in Pune, agnostic of her religion or religious traditions.
“I just didn’t have any interest in it,” she said.
That was until college, when she became more aware about her identity and wanted to get to know more about her community. “I had felt like an outsider till then, not knowing much about my community or participating in cultural events. As I grew older, I wanted to know more about my people.”
In November 2021, Daruwalla started working with Evergreen Story, a platform with a mission to record, preserve and (tell) humanity’s storiesand use the medium of storytelling to support the environment.” For every story published, the platform plants a tree in the name of the person documented.
Daruwalla started recording Parsi stories for the platform and has so far met more than 300 Parsis across the country and published their stories. Among her favourite stories are the recording of Mona Jaats, which are hymns sung before any religious function. Only the older generation of Parsis today have knowledge of Mona jaats, which are endangered.
She also interviewed the grandson of one of the last Parsi healers, who were called Va Ujavanu– those who used prayers to heal.
“The Parsis I had interviewed during my oral history recordings are mostly dead now. So Daruwalla is now traveling 20 years after I did to record the experiences of the younger generations,” Cama said.
The memories and micro-histories of Parsis are rich in vignettes and encounters with India’s elite. India’s first woman photojournalist Homai Vyarawalla who passed away in 2012 spoke to Cama at length about her interactions with the Gandhis. And one project that she could never forget was the wedding of Rajiv Gandhi with Sonia. Vyarawalla was paid for the photographs and the negatives. She never got to see her work again. “But it was all in her memory,” said Cama. And now, in Parzor’s oral history archives.
Photographers from other communities also document the Parsis, their distinct culture and dying heritage that piques the interest of many, like that of Bindi Sheth who put up her photo exhibition at India International Centre in Delhi. Bindi documented the Parsis in her hometown, Ahmedabad.
The themes that stand out in her exhibition are loneliness, love, loss and celebration, as well as a lingering influence of the British. There are photographs of young bachelor Parsis living in baugs, of older Parsis alone in old houses filled with antique furniture, and of families gathering for weddings and Navjotes.
The library makes appeals to the Parsi community on an annual basis and asks for donations for restoration, preservation work. That’s our main source of income
– Chaitali Desai, Librarian at Meherjirana
“As an outsider, I realised I have the advantage of noticing minor details like their love for natural elements that set them apart and make them a unique, intriguing community,” she said.
Ruzbeh Umrigar, who conducts heritage walks in Navsari, remembers spending his summers in the hall of the then crumbling Meherjirana library. He had no clue about the importance of the literature the library has. It was only many years later, after Cama’s discovery, that he learned about the rich texts lying in the cupboards of one of his childhood haunts.
Today, the library has an annexe, and a trust board has been set up to look after its day-to-day functioning. According to the current librarian, Chaitali Desai, it doesn’t get government support, but runs on charitable donations.
“The library makes appeals to the Parsi community on an annual basis and asks for donations for restoration, preservation work. That’s our main source of income,” she said.
The library’s collection and contribution to the community’s heritage is a source of pride for her. There are more than 600 handwritten Parsi scriptures, Desai said.
“The restoration of the Meherjirana library is one of the biggest achievements of Parzor. And not only have all books been preserved, they have also been digitised,” Cama said. “When I first went there, the books couldn’t even be touched.”
Now that it is back in the limelight, the library’s future is caught in the local politics of who gets to run it. Its responsibility currently lies with a trust which is not comprised of academics. Some Navsari residents, like Umrigar, fear that lack of scholars or academics puts these records in jeopardy.
But even as these battles are playing out in the upper echelons of the community, the younger generation is looking at ways to add to the work archived and documented so far. School teacher Pinaz (27) got the opportunity to work with Parsi author and historian Marzban Jamshedji Giara. She assisted him on the research of his last book, Prominent Parsis of Navsari, which was published a year after he passed away in 2022. And since then, Pinaz has been a little directionless.
“I need to be financially independent, I haven’t been able to work out a model where I research and document but also earn money at the same time,” she said adding that “it is very important to record contemporary Parsi stories, otherwise us and our stories will die in the little circle orthodox of our community want to restrict us to.”
Freny Daruwalla has lived through countless personal histories. The Parsis she interviewed shared their experiences of watershed moments—the red dots in history. Ninety-year-old Tina Mehta’s heart is still heavy with the memory of the last time she kissed her Muslim friends goodbye during Partition in 1947. Daruwalla heard the heartbreaking account of Ahmedabad resident, Hafiz Dalal, who frantically searched for his daughter when Gujarat went into curfew during the 2002 riots. She has felt the frustration of Dilshad Mistry, who was called to office within two days after the infamous floods in July 2005 that left Mumbai flooded.
These oral histories have made Daruwalla a time traveller.
“It feels like people are not talking from memory at all. The story just flows out of them naturally, like they’re living through it in real time.”
Marriage, divorce, inheritance, and temple rights are all skewed in favour of men. Four Parsi women see UCC as an equaliser but Bombay Parsi Punchayet wants ‘total exemption’.
Delhi/Mumbai: A viral message circulating within Parsi WhatsApp circles has become the most hotly debated topic within the closely knit community. It is a photograph of the trustees of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet alongside Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, the chairperson of the 22nd Law Commission of India. For an hour and a half on 21 August, a delegation fromone of India’s most powerful Parsi organisations presented their case before the government—the complete exemption of Parsi-Irani-Zoroastrians from the Uniform Civil Code.
“We seek total exemption from the UCC, especially since exemption for some tribes is being considered,” a trustee of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) told ThePrint.
But the winds of change that the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) threatens to herald have exposed fault lines within the seemingly homogeneous Parsi community, and at the forefront of this movement are four women. They are fighting for their own rights and those of their children against “archaic” laws that were established at a time when women had no rights, and they predate the Constitution of India.
Marriage, divorce, inheritance, and temple rights are currently skewed in favour of men. These women see the UCC as an equaliser, one that offers them a chance to be on equal ground with men.
“The Uniform Civil Code will bring laws that will treat all genders equally. It is very important for Parsi women, so discrimination against us on the basis of centuries-old observations can finally end,” says author Prochy N Mehta.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that a country cannot function with dual systems of separate laws for separate communities and the 22nd Law Commission began public consultations on the UCC, Parsis have joined the debate alongside Muslims, Christians, and tribal communities across the country.
Within the Parsi community, orthodox members worried about purity, bloodlines, and tradition want to preserve the old ways, while the more progressive members are rooting for change. Both sides are writing open letters and op-eds, pinging each other in WhatsApp groups, discussing it over dinner at their homes, and arguing about it within the confines of their walled enclaves.
The Uniform Civil Code will bring laws that will treat all genders equally. It is very important for Parsi women, discrimination against us on the basis of centuries-old observations can finally end — author Prochy N Mehta.
“If UCC is implemented, it will infringe on the traditions of our peaceful community. Then, anyone will be able to enter the fire temple, and adoptions will be allowed in the Parsi community, which we can’t accept,” the BPP trustee said.
A storm is brewing, and even Parsi High Priest Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor has been drawn into its vortex. Reports suggesting his support for the UCC have angered prominent Parsis. Dastoor subsequently issued a statement clarifying that he had been misquoted. “I have not said that Parsis would welcome UCC, nor do I feel that UCC will be welcomed by the Parsi community,” he was quotedas saying in The Free Press Journal.
But this time, the women within the community have decided they won’t beaccepting these diktats. They have filed petitions in courts challenging practices they see as discriminatory,with the UCC serving as an impetus to their cause.
If UCC is implemented, it will infringe on the traditions of our peaceful community. Then, anyone will be able to enter the fire temple, and adoptions will be allowed in the Parsi community, which we can’t accept — the Bombay Parsi Punchayet trustee
Prochy Mehta petitioned the Kolkata High Court after her grandchildren were denied entry into Kolkata’s Fire Temple. Goolrukh Gupta has challenged the decision of the Valsad Parsi Anjuman to bar her from performing her mother’s last rites since she married outside the community. Gupta argues that her rights under Article 21 and 14 of the Constitution have been violated. Sanaya Dalal, a former journalist, petitioned the Supreme Court in February 2021 against gender discrimination perpetuated by certain Parsi institutions, especially the Parsi Colony Gymkhana in Dadar, against women by not admitting children of those who marry outside the faith.Dalal’s five-year-old son has been barred from entering the playground at the Dadar gymkhana. And sculptor Naomi Irani petitioned the Supreme Court challenging several sections of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act 1936. She is the only one to do so.
“Why is my marriage governed by 100-year-old laws?” asks Irani, who filed for divorce in 2016. Even after seven years, her divorce has not yet been finalised.
Court cases drag on
Every time, Naomi Irani stepped into the Bombay High Court, she felt as ifthewalls of the 150-year-old heritage building were closing in on her, as though ready to swallow her completely. It’s where a jury of five prominent Parsi men and women should have been convening to deliberate her case, but so far it hasn’t assembled even once.
The Irani-Parsi-Zoroastrian community is the only group in the country whose divorce cases are adjudicated by a five-member jury in the Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras High Courts, as per Section 18 of the Parsi Matrimonial and Divorce Act of 1936. Remarkably, these Parsi matrimonial courts are India’s last surviving jury trials—decades after India did away with them in 1959. The Act was amended in 1988 to recognise mutual consent as a valid ground for divorce.
More often than not, the panel members are senior citizens, and coaxing them to attend courtroom sessions can take years, according to Irani, the frustration leaking into her voice.
The jury panel members are appointed by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet and they participate in the proceedings, rendering judgement in line with the judge’s decision. If the jury’s opinion diverges from the judge’s verdict, the judgment becomes void, explained Firoza Daruwala, one of Irani’s counsel in the Supreme Court.
“There’s absolutely no privacy. The dirty linen of our marriage is washed in front of a small community, where news travels fast,” laments Irani. Supreme Court lawyer Firoza Daruwala likens the proceedings to a TV serial.
Cases often drag on for years. At the Bombay High Court, Irani met many people struggling to get a divorce for over a decade.
Unlike family courts, which specifically deal with familial issues and marriage-related conflicts, the same conducive environment in absent on the high courts, which can be a gruelling experience for families.
To sidestep these protracted legal processes, many couples reach an understanding outside the courtroom, a situation Irani labels as “justice denied.”
“Our divorce cases stretch for decades. This personal law is discriminatory towards women. This is why I have challenged it,” says Irani.
She is the first woman from the Parsi community to challenge ten sections of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act 1936 and petition the Supreme Court for the abolishment of the jury system. Among the sections she contests is Section 50, which stipulates that if a Parsi wife commits adultery leading to a divorce or judicial separation, the court might “settle” half of her property “for the benefit of the children”. The provision doesn’t apply equivalently to men.
In 2017, when she stood before the Supreme Court, she felt liberated.Accepting her petition, the bench of Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Amitava Roy asked why such a law has not been challenged so far.“One voice is still a voice,” Irani’s then–counsel Neela Gokhale, now a judge in the Bombay High Court, replied to the bench.
Who is a Parsi?
A phone call from the Parsi agiyari(fire temple) in Kolkata led Prochy N Mehta down the path of defining Parsi identity. Despite her daughter’s marriage to a non-Parsi, their children are being raised in the Parsi faith. Together, the family often visited the Kolkata Agiyari—the only one in the city—to offer prayers, particularly on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and Navroze (Parsi New Year).
And then the priest of the temple changed and decreed that her grandchildren—offspring of interfaith marriage—would not be allowed inside the temple. Children of women who marry non-Parsis are not accepted into the fold.
Mehta wrote letters to members of the Parsi community in Kolkata, receiving hundreds of replies expressing solidarity. “We have only 30 Parsis below the age of 20 in Kolkata. Everyone here loves children, and nobody wants to alienate them,” she says.
It also set her on the path to try and define the Parsi. She went through old records, spoke to religious and legal experts, and in 2022, published, ‘Who is a Parsi?’— a scholarly work featuring a foreword by jurist Fali S Nariman, which attempts to set the record straight.
Through her research, Mehta tries to show that there is no legal, religious or social justification for depriving her maternal grandchildren of privileges accorded to Parsis. This extends beyond places of worship to include dakhma (tower of silence) and participation in funeral rites. Her conclusion? Being a Parsi and a Zoroastrian are inherently the same. However, orthodox Parsis do not subscribe to this view.
“Anyone can convert to the Zoroastrian faith but they can’t become Parsi Zoroastrians,” reiterated the BPP trustee.
Mehta’s book has become an integral part of the UCC debate.
For over 12 years now, she and her family have not stepped inside the Kolkata Agiyari. “Why should we go somewhere our children are not allowed?” she asks.Mehta has petitioned the Calcutta High Court against this discriminatory practice.
“How can you refuse to accept the children of women? There’s nothing which says our children will or should not be accepted.”
The origins of these stringent laws trace back to a 1908 case when the first Parsi Bombay High Court judge, Dinshaw Davar, and British judge Frank Beaman observed that Indian Parsis constitute a “pure” caste that need not accept individuals who might “contaminate” the community. However, children of Parsi fathers and “alien” mothers do not face discrimination. Parsis consider the 1908 Davar Beaman judgment as their personal law.
Observations made by these judges are often cited by Parsis to make a case for certain practices, including restrictions at the fire temple or the tower of silence. “Whatever we do, we do as per what the law says,” a trustee of BPP said.
These restrictions frequently seem discriminatory towards women. For instance, while even illegitimate children of male Parsis are recognised as members of the community, the same status is not accorded to children of Parsi women who marry outside the community.
This is why Goolrukh Gupta from Valsad, Gujarat,was denied entry into the tower of silence to conduct her mother’s last rites by the Parsi Anjuman Trust. Her choice of a non-Parsi husband stripped her of her Parsi rights. Her appeals to enter the Valsad fire temple and the doongerwadi (site for death rituals) were rejected. She petitioned the Gujarat High Court, which ruled against her.Subsequently, she approached the Supreme Court, asserting that the ban violates women’s rights enshrined under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
“The 1908 Davar Beaman document is an observation, not a law. It is from an era when women weren’t even considered individuals, and it predates the Constitution. It is 110 years old and should not be referred to,” said Dalal.
No adoption allowed
Within the now defunct Parsi Lying-In Hospital in Mumbai’s Fort area, only one ward remains occupied. It’s not filled with babies or nurses or doctors; rather, it’s the workplace for the small team behind the fortnightly magazine, Parsiana. The work tables are cluttered with a trove of old issues, newspapers, magazines, files, and papers.
As the debate on UCC heats up, Parsiana has published both sides of the argument. Its editor Jehengir Patel, who has heard all sides and fractions, holds a ‘moderate’ stance.“Reform should come from within; it cannot be imposed,” he says. But many fear that it may be too late already. Patel wants Parsis to shed their orthodox practices but doesn’t think a hasty Uniform Civil Code is the solution.
As the Parsi population dwindles, adoption is not considered a solution. As per the 1908 Davar-Beaman judgment, the adoption of a ‘foreign child’ cannot integrate them into the Parsi community.
“A Parsi born must always be a Parsi, no matter what other religion he subsequently adopts and professes. He may be a Christian Parsi, and he may be any other Parsi, according to the religion he professes; but a Parsi he always must be,” notes the judgment.
Berjis Desai, advocate and author of Oh Those Parsis!, highlights how this has put young Parsi couples in a bind. “Many want to adopt a child. But in the absence of any legal authority, they’re unable to do so,” he said.
Desai explains that some Parsi couples have adopted children under the Guardians and Wards Act 1890, becoming legal guardians and graduallyintegrating them into the community. “But the tag of being recognised as a parent is desirable,” he adds. Other communities, such as Muslims and Christians, also adopt children under the same Act, but these adopted children do not enjoy the same status as naturally born children.
In an op-ed published in Parsiana, Desaiillustrates this with the example of a Parsi couple who adopted their domestic worker’s child. While she lived in a BPP housing complex and embraced the baug culture, even undergoing a Navjote ceremony, none of these actions guaranteed her rights as a Parsi.
“Unlike adoption, where the adopted child automatically acquires the same status as a natural-born child, the Guardians Act does not confer similar legal status. For instance, if the guardian parent dies without a will, his child under the Guardian Act will not have the same inheritance rights to his estate as his natural born would,” Desai wrote.
In all likelihood, the adopted child won’t be entitled to live in the BBP flat within the baug she grew up in because she is not considered a Parsi.
“Forget wards, even children of women who intermarry cannot reside in baug flats. The presence of a will doesn’t make a difference,” said advocate Firoza Daruwalla.
Within the Parsi community, there’s a growing discontent over what is seen as the Bombay Parsi Punchayet’s emergence as the deciding voice in the Uniform Civil Code debate.
Who gave them the power to represent the community during its meeting with the 22nd Law Commission of India, asks Desai.
“Was expertise the reason for selection, or their religious views? The grapevine has it that several who were invited did not attend, including Udvada High Priest Dastur Khurshed Dastoor, former member of the National Commission for Minorities,” he wrote in a barbed criticism in Parsiana. Desai further asserted that no liberal voices were present in the meeting. “The consultations appear to be orchestrated to reach the conclusion desired by the trustees, namely, total exemption. Not a single cogent reason was given for such total exemption other than to preserve religious customs and beliefs.”
Liberal Parsis argue that while the orthodox faction is vociferous, they represent a minor perspective on reforming the community’s doctrine. Despite their small numbers, though, the orthodox hold authoritative positions, including religious leadership, which prevents reform.
The UCC has brought these practices into the public gaze.
The 2018 Law Commission of India report on family law reform criticised the jury system as “archaic”, “tedious”, and “complicated”. The report highlighted the infrequency of jury sessions, with juries meeting only twice a year. And since Parsi Matrimonial Courts are set up only in presidency high courts, it causes inconvenience to people residing far from metropolitan areas.
“Not only does this cause inordinate delays and inconvenience to people living outside metropolitan cities, but also these systems discourage inter-community marriage.” According to advocate Daruwala, the Parsi matrimonial court attached to the Bombay High Courthasn’t been held since August 2019.
At the Dadar Parsi Gymkhana in Mumbai, the sounds of children playing can often be heard over the beep and blare of traffic noise. It’s where Dalal’s son would go to play with his colony friends. But when he turned five, he was barred from entering the playground because he was the child of an interfaith couple. Children of women who marry outside the community are prohibited from using the gymkhana. He is facing the same discrimination that his father Rishi did when he was growing up. Rishi’s parents were also an interfaith couple.
“This is second-generation discrimination,” says Daruwala, a childhood friend of Rishi’s, and Dalal’s counsel. “All his life, Rishi was left behind at cultural events and [stopped] from offering prayers at the agiyari. Today, the same thing is happening to his son.”
Ever since Dalal moved the courts, she’s been receiving hate comments on social media. Detractors, who Dalal says should be ‘detained’, call her son and other children of inter-faith marriages as ‘diluted milk’, ‘mules’, and ‘bhelpuri’.
This ground report is the second in a series called Parsipolis. Read all the articles here.
Iraqi First Lady, Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmad, wife of the Iraqi President, held a special ceremony at ASHTI Zoroastrian Temple, in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan to award a number of prominent personalities who have played a role in spreading the culture of peaceful coexistence and mutual acceptance among all religious and ethnic communities in the Kurdistan Region.
This ceremony that was held on Saturday 05.AUG.2023, at the ASHTI Zoroastrian Temple, in Sulaymaniyah city, was organized and prepared by Awat Hesamuddin (Darya), official representative of Kurdish Zoroastrians in K.R.G.
Representatives of eight different religions, including Islam, Sunni and Shiite, Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, Saba’i Mandai, Baha’i ,and Kakai Yarsani, several national personalities and several organizational managers were honored at the ceremony.
At the ceremony, the First Lady of Iraq, Ms. Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmed, was presented with an honorary award for her important role in supporting freedom of religion and belief, to support the culture of coexistence, between all religions and nationalities and to protect their rights.
The award of Queen Shabad, one of the most famous figures of Sumerian civilization, which means Queen of Beauty, was presented to the Iraq First Lady, Ms. Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmed. Also she was presented with the Ashavan Zoroastrian Foundation Award for Music and Culture by Awat Darya, the official Zoroastrian representative.
Attached are some photos and a video.
The link is the video of the visit by the first lady of Iraq, the wife of the President of the Republic of Iraq, Dr. Latif Rashid, at ASHTI Zoroastrian Temple in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan, on the occasion of honoring a group of Iraqi Kurdish personalities, which was officially published by Ms. Shahnaz Ibrahim Ahmad, in her social media account.
The Iraq First Lady, Ms. Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmad, the wife of the President of the Republic of Iraq, at the ASHTI Zoroastrian Temple in the city of Sulaymaniyah, receives the award of thanks and appreciation.
Judge Weria Kanimarani, who holds the position of a judge in the Court of Juveniles and Minors, in the city of Sulaymaniyah, receives an award of thanks and appreciation for his prominent role in serving justice and peaceful coexistence in society.
Judge Qasim Izdi, who is the first judge of the Yazidi religion to hold the position of judge of the criminal court in the city of Sulaymaniyah. He receives the award of thanks and appreciation.
Part of the presence of the dignitaries who were honored and mediated by the first lady of Iraq.
One of the Shiite clerics who was honored for his role in spreading the culture of peace.