‘Save the Parsis from themselves’

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 Sooni TaraporevalaThe government thinks a fund will rescue them. But Sooni Taraporevala argues that the community needs to forget race purity instead

As told to Samrat Chakrabarti

Rare sight? A Parsi family after offering Navroze prayers in Mumbai
Photo: AFP

ONE crore rupees allocated by the government in the recent budget to help Parsis! It’s a joke! One crore rupees would buy half a flat in a Parsi housing colony in a faraway suburb of Bombay — oops — Mumbai. Sorry, Raj. Please don’t burn down my house. The Parsis just need saving from themselves. The way forward is to be inclusive, tolerant and really imbibe what our religion teaches us — that a good Zoroastrian is one who speaks Good Words, thinks Good Thoughts and does Good Deeds. The rest is irrelevant.

Parsis outside India have already shifted from a race-based to a faith-based identity – they refer to themselves as Zoroastrians and not Parsis. Years ago I would scoff at this since it seemed then to be a denial of our Indian identity – but now, given the racial implications of being a Parsi and all the ‘purity’ that involves, I don’t think it is such a bad thing. I’m clear that it would be a shame if Parsis died out — but should the religion die out? That would be an unforgivable tragedy and we would only have ourselves to blame.

Parsis have enjoyed an image of being progressive, educated and liberal. Young Parsis now complain that the community, especially in Bombay, has cornered itself into a ghetto to guard ‘race purity’. But in my experience, it’s the youngsters themselves who’ve enlisted to do this zealous guarding, brainwashed into believing that the religion and community is threatened from outside — when actually the threat comes from within. In my film Little Zizou (2008), a young army of inept zealots called PLO (Parsi Liberation Organisation) is led by Cyrus II Khodaiji — a selfappointed keeper of Parsi morals who makes inflammatory speeches about racial purity. Unfortunately, our famous Parsi sense of humour is going the way of our numbers. Like all fundamentalists, our Parsi fundoos are always quick to take offence.

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We need to open up, liberalise. To those who speak of racial purity, I’d like to ask them if they are prepared to become extinct”

Jehangir Sabavala,
Artist


When you have dwindling numbers like the tiger, old clichés about a 5,000-year-old culture hold no meaning”

Minoo Vania
Air Commodore (Retd)


We were once a progressive community. Not any more. The old people in charge are not letting in new ideas and thought. We need visionaries”

Kersi Khambatta
Writer


My very Hindu daughter-in-law pulls my cheeks and says, ‘Hi, my darling.’ She’s become a Parsi! I feel sorry for Parsis who don’t get it”

Bejan Daruwalla
Astrologer

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What can any sensible person think about racial purity? It is the road that leads to concentration camps. I think a certain section of our leaders have jumped onto the fundamentalist bandwagon now steamrolling the world, claiming — if they can, why can’t we? And like all fundamentalist movements — Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish — the strategy is always to declare that your religion is “under threat”. They identify an outside enemy to attack for this and rely on brainwashing their own young minds for reinforcement. Even if one were to set aside the idea of ‘race purity’ and consider only socio-cultural identity, it would be an inestimable loss for India to lose the Parsi culture and worldview.

In all the interfaith marriages I see, the non-Parsi spouse is always eager to carry on all Parsi traditions despite being treated like an untouchable in all the ceremonies. Parsi women married out of the faith suffer worse than the corresponding men. It’s shameful. Women who have not even converted to another religion upon marriage have been barred from entering fire temples. There was the infamous case of a young woman, married to a Gujarati and died young in a car accident, whose body was turned away at the Towers of Silence. For decades their children could not be initiated into the religion — that is changing now and there are a few enlightened priests who have been performing these navjotes. That these priests too have been punished by our ‘enlightened’ leaders is another story. Parsi women have been consistently strongwilled and independent. This is ascendance and we are here to stay. Parsi women are the ones who will lead us into the light.

If Parsis went missing, India would lose dhansak, patra ni macchi, a thousand ways of cooking eggs — I am being flippant. What we would lose would be business honesty, western classical music audiences, philanthropy — no more Zubin Mehtas or Freddy Mercurys, no more constitutional lawyers, no more doctors to treat future Amitabh Bachchans. Being a good Parsi, I could go on forever.

(Taraporevala is author of Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India and director of Little Zizou)

 

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