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Biting the hand…

The formation of the Global Council of Zoroastrians Trust (GCZT) at the last meeting of the Global Working Group (GWG) on January 7, 2020 demonstrates the international Parsi and Zoroastrian community’s commitment to assist their less fortunate brethren in India (see "To support each other," pg 25). While many overseas Zoroastrian organizations and associations have lent a helping hand, Hong Kong being a prime example, other global centers have also contributed their mite. Both the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America and the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (ZTFE) have been supporting worthy institutions such as The B. D. Petit Parsee General Hospital (PGH), the Dadar Athornan Institute and elderly mobeds among others. Individuals such as the Jokhi family of Hong Kong built Ava Baug in Navsari.

At one time, the Parsis in India lent assistance to their less privileged brethren in Iran. This debt was repaid manifold by Iranian philanthropists, primarily Arbab and Madam Rustam Guiv and the two Zartoshty brothers, Mehraban and Faridoon. They not only showered their largesse on Indian Zoroastrians but even those abroad, especially the fledgling communities in North America. Now North American Zoroastrians have also emerged as major donors.

The single largest monetary donation to the community ever was pledged by Jal and Pervin Shroff of Hong Kong to the PGH, a princely sum of USD 22.5 million (Rs 160 crores). They offered the amount to set up a cosmopolitan hospital from whose revenue PGH would receive a percentage, plus a fixed annual amount. A handful opposed the munificent donation. They alleged the PGH property would be jeopardized and filed applications before the Charity Commissioner (CC), inordinately delaying a project that had already lagged behind due to obtaining extensive and lengthy bureaucratic permissions.

Several of those who opposed the PGH proposal and other similar minded individuals are now opposing on social media the formation of the GCZT. Lawyer Khushru Zaiwala who filed an application before the CC opposing the PGH project, termed the GCZT/GWG, "an anti-God organization." He was no doubt angered by the Zoroastrian Charity Funds of Hongkong, Canton and Macao president and GWG non-executive chairman Neville Shroff’s opening remarks criticizing those who opposed the proposal made by Jal and Pervin. Neville termed the opponents "shortsighted" individuals with "overly orthodox views" who "came in the way" of a worthwhile proposal. "Are these people going to put their hands in their pockets to sustain PGH? (They) undermine the good work many of us are trying to do."

A post written/forwarded by Aspi Deboo who, along with Zoru Bhathena had also filed an application before the CC opposing the PGH proposal, claimed, "Money power will call the shots...the international glamor will be the attraction...Our Parsipanu (Parsi characteristics) will be diluted, forgotten and lost."

An anonymous post likened Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) chairman Yazdi Desai to Judas, the disciple who allegedly betrayed Christ either for 30 pieces of silver or because he was possessed by Satan. "The ‘global trust’ is being registered with a diabolical mission to destroy the Indian Parsi community," alleged the anonymous writer.

A Jimmy Tavadia alleged: "The BPP and the FPZAI (Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India) will effectively be subsumed by the GCZT...will become toothless cats...The great global takeover is almost complete." Other posts referred to the GWG leaders as "Aaltoo faaltoo (useless) reformist Parsis," "a coterie of unscrupulous businessmen... goons," and even likened them to Nazis.

At the turbulent FPZAI meet in Ahmedabad in 2004, Desai and his colleague Khojeste Mistree were the major opponents of a Zoroastrian world body, raising the bogey of the Parsi Zoroastrians being swamped by global "neo-Zoroastrians." For the first time ever the all-India body’s meeting was disrupted for close to half an hour by slogan shouting attendees, mostly from south Gujarat. The proposed world body was never formed but Desai and Mistree trading in on their success at scuttling the proposed world body went on to become BPP trustees in 2008. Desai consolidated his hold on the FPZAI with the support of his traditionalist loyalists from south Gujarat anjumans. How those anjumans will now react to the formation of the GCZT is to be seen, though so far they have toed Desai’s line.

The GCZT and the GWG are still works in progress. Many compromises have been made and more will be required. Whether the new Trust will be communal or cosmopolitan has yet to be determined. If the Trust is only for Parsi Zoroastrians, income tax exemptions will be denied unless the Trust is solely for women and children. Copies of the trust deed have still to be made public but the GCZT objectives would probably be to help all in the community, male and female, children and adults. "There is no hidden agenda or ulterior motive... except to help the global community and also the underprivileged to lead a basic life style," Neville had reiterated in an email to Parsiana on January 15, 2020 in response to our queries.

The deed has gone through 21 amendments, according to solicitor and former BPP trustee Burjor Antia. It was at his goading to go ahead with the Trust that perhaps the three vocal BPP trustees agreed to the proposal, despite not having had a chance to discuss the draft in their trustees’ meeting.

The restrictive legislation of the Indian government has also made inward remittances subject to red tape and monitoring. The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 certification is required to receive overseas funding. The GCZT will have to obtain this before they can receive funds from abroad.

The hurdles are everywhere — intentional and unintentional. Our overseas brethren accept the realities. But they are stumped at the approach of some of their Indian counterparts in Bombay who not only turned down a Rs 160 crore donation to assist one of the community’s most crucial institutions but openly disparage other international donors providing greatly needed funds. This is a heavy price to pay for injecting religion and politics into social welfare. The new Trust will be formed and benefits will accrue. But the expected appreciation and gratitude may be a long time in the coming.



 

Villoo Poonawalla