Rayomand Coins

Communication is the key

While the pandemic has put a damper on most community activities, the virus did not deter the Global Working Group (GWG) from holding a virtual, annual meeting this January 15 (see "Tenacity by the Trust," pg 20). Some 30 world leaders and prominent Parsis conferred for over three hours. Depending where the delegates were situated in the world, some of them had to get up very early or stay up late on a Saturday in front of their computer/laptop/mobile screens. Notifications were sent well in advance, the Parsi Press was invited and the program followed the schedule drawn up. The discussion was congenial, to the point, and the speakers adhered to the allocated time limits. If anyone exceeded their allotted time, they were politely requested to wind up their presentation/discourse.

The regional reports were circulated prior to the meeting and the representatives of the various areas had an opportunity to talk briefly about their regions if they so wished. Just seeing and hearing familiar faces speaking about their countries/associations was reassuring. The GWG, a global body though not termed a world body, was formed over 55 years after it was initially suggested at the First World Zoroastrian Congress (WZC) held in Tehran in 1960.

Through the GWG meet we got to know that the 12th WZC will be held as scheduled this July 1 to 4 in New York City. Should the pandemic or related causes prevent any participant from attending, the fees would be refunded after deducting a nominal charge. Both the co-chairs of the Congress participated in the meet to talk about the forthcoming world gathering. The goal of the Congress "is to promote or equip attendees with the tools to recover from uncertainty, rebalance our lives and reconnect with our worldwide community." A program committee was formed 18 months ago. The previous WZC was held in Perth, Australia in 2018.

Looking to the future, Singapore is hopefully being primed for the 2026 or 2027 Congress. The floating Zoroastrian population of around 300 on the small island is examining whether they have the wherewithal to manage an international gathering of this magnitude. Their dynamic, young president may be the man to carry it off. Through his largesse, the Parsi Zoroastrian Association of Singapore has a Zoroastrian House in which a small museum will be included. Their hoped for Congress undertaking reminds one of the small Zoroastrian populace in the towns/cities of Ukai, Bardoli, Ratlam, Mhow and Indore that once hosted The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India (FPZAI) meets.

Today even a major metropolis like Bombay, with a Parsi population of around 30,000, is unable to host a meet because of infighting, a monetary crunch and Covid. The last meeting of the all-India body was held in July 2019. No annual general meetings or elections have been held for the past two-and-a-half years. The FPZAI awards have not been handed out since a decade or so. At the FPZAI meets, representatives of each anjuman would present a report on their organization’s activities, population, problems and successes.

Communication in the Indian community has been one of the casualties of the lockdowns. Unlike the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA) which meets virtually, the FPZAI has made no attempt to create a virtual all-India forum. One would have thought with the pandemic raging, anjumans would have wanted to exchange notes on how their fellow Parsis were faring, whether they needed assistance or advice or whether they had any solutions to offer. Surprisingly, the all-India body had been formed only a few years after the idea was mooted by anjumans and punchayets other than Bombay.

With the rest of the world marching on, the question arises why Bombay remains dysfunctional. The Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) was unable to pay December salaries [around Rs 1.3 crores (USD 1,73,412)] due to a credit crunch. They were finally paid on January 31 after liquidating Rs 3.9 crores (USD 5,20,238) of fixed deposits. In November last year, a Rs 3.5 crores (USD 4,66,880) fixed deposit had been liquidated. Whether the salaries for the coming months will be paid by resorting to the same practice is not known.

Even the BPP trusteeship elections have not been held for close to 21 months after a vacancy first arose. Another seat has been vacant for over a year. The election scheme that requires elections to be held within 90 days of a vacancy was tossed aside due to a majority wanting to hold on to power.

The formation of the Global Council of Zoroastrians Trust, mooted at the GWG, is facing a legal challenge in the Bombay Charity Commissioner’s office even though the beneficiaries of the proposed Trust are disadvantaged Parsis in India.

The GWG has taken up causes dear to the Bombay community. A considerable amount of time was devoted to discussing the depleting number of priests. The solutions offered are unlikely to change the scenario significantly. As the FEZANA president mentioned, the problem is not restricted to Parsis alone. Other religious faiths also face the same problem. Earning more may prove a greater incentive to take up the priesthood but money is often not a sufficient attraction. As one young priest who left a paying, responsible corporate job to take up the family panthak (governance of religious affairs by a priest in an agiary) told Parsiana, youngsters want more challenging careers. Commercial jobs are more paying, have fixed hours, weekly offs, annual increments, provident fund, gratuity and other benefits. In contrast, priests are expected to be on duty 24 hours a day. What draws people to the priesthood then is a sense of duty and service to the community, he believed. Aside from an inadequate salary and perquisites, panthakies also have to grapple with making ends meet due to rising costs, increased expenses for agiary employees, kathi, etc on one side, and a depleting number of devotees on the other. Within a two kilometer range of his agiary, are 10 others competing for footfalls, the priest told Parsiana.

The Karachi Parsi Anjuman Trust Fund is offering monthly emoluments of PKR 2,00,000 (Rs 84,000) plus air conditioned accommodation, medical and educational expenses paid for, a return ticket to India every other year for the family, etc. Whether there will be any takers is a question mark.

Unfortunately there is no talk of inducting women as priests, which would double the number of candidates for the priesthood. The paramobed or behdin pasbaans scheme wherein lay Parsis can take up some priestly functions has not met with a sufficient response to make up for the shortfall of mobeds. In North America and elsewhere Zoroastrians manage without full-time priests. The same may happen here one day.

However insurmountable the local problems may appear, the rest of the world should serve as an example and inspiration of what is achievable if people put their hearts and minds to it.


Villoo Poonawalla