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Worlds apart

For the first time in 32 years Parsiana covered a Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA) annual general meet (AGM) this May (see "Faith in FEZANA,” pg 18). The occasion was the triple hosting in Orlando, Florida of the FEZANA AGM, the World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce (WZCC) AGM and a biannual gathering of the Global Working Group (GWG). Normally the high costs involved in travel and board would make the trip prohibitively expensive for Parsiana but since this three-in-one meet was a historic occasion, we believed the journalistic opportunity presented, justified the cost.
While Parsiana has covered WZCC and GWG meetings earlier, the            FEZANA sessions that stretched over two days were an eye-opener. The amount of activities undertaken and planned by our North American (NA) brethren was, and is, immense. Three congresses are scheduled in the course of four years, including a World Zoroastrian Youth Congress this month, a North American Zoroastrian Congress in Houston next year and the 12th World Zoroastrian Congress in New York in 2022. The 11th Zoroastrian Unity Cup Soccer Tournament is to be held this August/September.
FEZANA has a Information Research Education System (FIRES), a scholarship program, an active website, the quarterly FEZANA Journal, a monthly electronic FEZANA Bulletin, a Zoroastrian Shop that can be accessed from the website, ties with the United Nations. FEZANA members are active in the Parliament of World’s Religions; a World Zoroastrian Symphony Orchestra comprising Zoroastrian musicians performs at NA congresses. FEZANA had assets of Rs 13,01,70,654, (USD 18,72,124) not counting Rs 1,80,68,076 (USD 2,60,000) received from the estate of Piroja and Kaikhosrov Irani.
The NA organizations have no full-time, salaried staff member, aside from some caretakers at the various dar-e-mehers. The Central Florida Zoroastrian Community managed the three May 2019 meets by themselves. This is the second time they have hosted a FEZANA AGM. Availing of existing infrastructure and facilities, generous donors, contacts and volunteers, they managed an impressive show. They had the advantage of a four-storey hotel, Wingate in Orlando, owned by Dinyar Mehta.
FEZANA has been in existence for 32 years. The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India (FPZAI) for close to 50. The history of the all-India body is replete with anjumans withdrawing or suspending their membership and in most cases, rejoining. As of today Bangalore is not a member, Hyderabad-Secunderabad has suspended its membership. No anjuman from East India attends the Federation meets, more so after the FPZAI broke its cardinal rule and interfered in the internal affairs of the Calcutta anjuman. Representation from the south is minimal. The South and North Zone vice-presidents reside in Bombay.
Due to internal squabbling, largely among the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trustees, two years or more may go by without a meeting. Constitutionally the all-India body has to meet every six months.
Trustees here may argue they have to manage vast properties and in the case of the BPP, thousands of tenants. But the FEZANA representatives also have to run their own associations and dar-e-mehers, in addition to serving on the NA body. The FPZAI has no physical assets. Even their monetary assets are negligible. In May this year one witnessed a move by BPP chairman and FPZAI president Yazdi Desai to oust his co-trustees, barring one, from the all-India body and change the FPZAI mailing address to his residence; he intended to shift the registered address from the BPP to the same building that houses the office of the World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis that he heads and controls.
Ever since the tumultuous  FPZAI Ahmedabad meet in December 2004, the organization has been in a state of turmoil. The main bone of contention then was the formation of a representative world body instead of a traditional, racially and gender biased one. The deep seated dislike of so-called non-Parsis (read children of Parsi women married to non-Parsis) remains.
Our NA brethren have taken a practical approach to the issue by being inclusive instead of exclusive. The stigma attached to the children of Parsi women married to non-Parsis and even the non-Parsi spouse has been negated by accepting both, albeit with some restrictions for the non-Parsi spouse. The Delhi anjuman has also taken similar steps and opened their fire temple and anjuman membership to the children of interfaith married couples. Their loss making dharamshala is now flourishing as non-Parsis are permitted to stay.
The Surat Parsee General Hospital is due for a makeover thanks to the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. The refurbished Hospital will reportedly be open to all communities. Surat already has the Nariman Home and Infirmary, exclusively for Parsis.
Contrast that with what happened to the generous donation of Rs 156 crores (USD 22.5 million) pledged by Pervin and Jal Shroff of Hong Kong to The B. D. Petit Parsee General Hospital. The offer was blocked by dissenters who also cast aspersions on the donors, the Hospital’s respected board of management and eminent doctors who supported the project. The Parsi Lying-In Hospital is in shambles and now faces a lease rent arrears demand from the Collector’s office of over three-and-a-half crore rupees (USD 5,09,900).
The NA associations’ leaders are elected by adult franchise. So also the Indian anjumans, barring a few. The inability to function harmoniously appears to be Bombaycentric. It is hard to comprehend why there is such a dichotomy between the Bombay Parsis and those in other parts of India and North America. We belong to the same religion, share similar upbringing and values, and yet are so far apart. Of course the overall environment plays a major factor. The West, constitutionally, and largely in practice, believes in equal rights for all regardless of religion, sex, race or sexual orientation.
In India the caste system still pervades. Women are second class citizens who have to fight court cases to enter a temple. Homosexuality was decriminalized only late last year. Members of certain minority groups are targeted and even killed. All over the world one sees the rise of far right extremist parties and organizations. Bombay proves to be no exception.



 

Villoo Poonawalla