Rayomand Coins

Painful choices

While the two most important and obvious crises facing the community are declining numbers and ageing, there is a third factor not so often articulated: finance. Most Parsis and others believe the community is wealthy and its funds, limitless. But at a meet of The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India (FPZAI) (see "Time has come to let go," pg 17) and an online meet of the Global Working Group (see "A second arm," pg 12) this notion was debunked.

When reporting on the workings of the Federation’s Defunct Anjumans Committee, its chief executive officer Sam Chothia lamented that lawyers’ fees are not paid, there is no money to file appeals or to build walls to protect community property from encroachment. But a more dire warning came from Dinshaw Tamboly, chairman of the World Zoroastrian Organisation Trusts. Referring to the appeals made to the Trusts for aid, especially medical, he said if it were not for the Zoroastrian Charity Funds of Hongkong, Canton and Macao (ZCFHCM), the community would be in difficulty. One delegate stated, partly in jest, that he hoped the real estate market in Hong Kong remains robust as much of the association’s largesse is dependent on rentals from their high-rise property in Hong Kong. Neville Shroff, president of ZCFHCM, however, told Tamboly not to rely on them solely. Develop other sources, he counseled.

The main concern for monies to be remitted from China to India is not only the vagaries of the property market; a more important factor is the strained relationship between the two governments and their internal policies. China is a dictatorship. Its National People’s Congress, the courts and the Press toe the leaders’ line. India is not much better. It is also becoming more authoritarian. As the Human Rights Watch Report for 2022 observed, "The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ideology of Hindu primacy has infiltrated the justice system and the media." In the 2022 edition of the World Press Freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, India was placed 150th out of 180 countries.

The Indian government targets nongovernmental organizations by refusing to renew their registration and thereby cutting off their funding. The draconian Foreign Contribution Regulation Act decides who in India can receive contributions from abroad and for what purpose. Citing requirements under the Act, the Home Ministry over a year ago initially refused to renew registration for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, despite the very commendable work they do for society’s most vulnerable. The government cited "adverse inputs" as the reason, without amplifying. Many, however, believe the rationale was the resurgence of Hindu nationalism and the victimization of minorities.

The Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) struggles to meet monthly expenses and reneges on financial subsidies promised to deserving members of the community. The BPP has cannibalized funds from other anjumans who in good faith deposited their corpuses with them for safekeeping. In many FPZAI meetings the hapless anjumans have stated that if the interest due to them cannot be paid by the financially bereft BPP, the principal amount should be returned. Neither is done and letters addressed to the BPP trustees remain unanswered.

The BPP is fearful of disclosing its accounts despite all the seven trustees promising to do so at the time of electioneering last May (see "Callout to candidates," Parsiana, May 7-20, 2022). Parsiana had queried, "Are you in favor of the BPP publishing and electronically disseminating its budget and annual accounts to the community?" All the 15 candidates polled replied "Yes." With an annual loss of around Rs 14 crore (USD 1,693,734), the trust would require a lot of financial jugglery to balance its books. Its main, if not only, recourse is to withdraw monies from the depleting fixed deposits with banks. The response to public notices for auctioning of charitable flats is diminishing as are the bids made. Aside from the interest on its dwindling financial investments, the trust receives few donations.

Like their predecessors, the current trustees refrain from communicating with the community. Everyone is in the dark about their achievements while their failures are magnified. At the GWG meet the BPP chairperson was absent. One trustee read out the trust’s uninspired, run-of-the-mill, business-as-usual, lackluster report. There was no mention of the serious issues facing the community or the trust.

Fire temples are equally concerned about falling footfalls and thereby income. One panthaky described the scenario as "frightening." Even if the funds are sufficient to maintain the fire temple and the trustees are fortunate enough to find priests, who will they tend to if very few or no one visits the fire temples? Does the institution serve the purpose for which it was founded?

One magnanimous donor from Denver, USA, has pledged two crore rupees (USD 241,962) to students who attend the Dadar Athornan Institute (DAI) and qualify as priests (see "DAI meeting," Events and Personalities, pg 10). Even if there are takers, what is a priest expected to do in a fire temple without worshippers? Who can he (in India women are not permitted to become priests) interact with? What sense of accomplishment could he derive from sitting in an empty building?

Ours is a generous community but our resources are running dry, limiting the number of institutions we can support. We will now have to take the painful decisions of which ones are worth supporting, and for how long. The others will have to shut shop. Like Sophie Zawistowski in William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice who had to decide whether to save her son or daughter from the Nazi crematoria at Auschwitz, we may also one day have to so choose.

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- Selvyn Mark
- 28-Feb-2023

"a third factor not so often articulated: finance" Very true as there will be no more Parsi entrepreneurs and industrialists like Tata, Godrej, Wadia and others. Parsi industrial houses due to inter caste marriages will no longer be Parsi. Many real estate and properties of defunct Anjumans have been encroached and in theory no longer Parsi. These properties should be sold and the funds realized be spent in a useful way building flats for the newly married,help aspiring young Parsi entrepreneurs set up their own business plus take care of old folks. Spending money on training new priests is self defeating as most of the present ones perform at Agiaries where there is no attendance. India is free country in spite of the disinformation and propaganda put out by Western media which cannot be said of Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Islamic countries.
- Shapour B Badri
- 26-Feb-2023


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