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Peace offerings

Jamshedi Navroz is around the corner and the New Year promises its share of excitement. Three major developments will take place in the first half of the year. Campaigning for the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) elections for the seat currently held by Bombay Samachar scion Muncherji Cama should start April-May. A five-member bench of the Supreme Court of India will decide on whether the outmarried Goolrookh Gupta can enter the Valsad agiary and Doongerwadi precincts. And the 11th World Zoroastrian Congress will be held in Perth, Australia from June 1 to 4. Except for the Congress, the other two issues are expected to be keenly contested.

Cama’s seven-year term expires this July 5. The election accordingly has to be scheduled between May 5 to July 4. Cama has not been attending the BPP board meetings over the past two years as his status as a trustee is being challenged before the Charity Commissioner (CC). He had sent a letter of resignation which was incorrectly addressed and therefore subsequently withdrawn. But the majority of the trustees at that time, led by Yazdi Desai, refused to accept the withdrawal. Former BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta challenged the BPP’s decision and moved the CC’s office. A decision from the CC is expected around Navroz. BPP trustee Kersi Randeria states the BPP will not challenge the ruling.

Between the two sides over a crore of rupees (USD 154,083) has been spent on legal fees. While Mehta and Cama are moneyed, the BPP is not flush with funds. The monthly subsidies to certain full-time practicing mobeds are temporarily stopped and to families that have a third child, often delayed. The funds are diverted to pay mounting legal fees and to cover the annual Doongerwadi deficit of three to four crore rupees (the correct figure has not been disclosed). On an average, less than two bodies a day are consigned to the Towers of Silence.

All talk of reforming the electoral process, reducing the seven-year trusteeship term, introducing a code of conduct for contesting candidates, holding accountability meetings with voters has been forgotten. Old ways die hard. But at least the BPP elections provide an opportunity for the community to interact with each other, the candidates and their supporters.

Who will enter the fray is uncertain. Mehta says Cama who has undergone knee replacement surgery will contest. Some WhatsApp chats are claiming that former BPP trustee Arnavaz Mistry may stand again. The top vote getter in the 2008 elections, when adult franchise was first introduced, Mistry closely lost in 2016 to sitting trustee Armaity Tirandaz. Other names being bandied are those of chartered accountant Xerxes Dastur and banker Homai Daruwalla. Daruwalla could also possibly be a consensus candidate, if both the Desai and Mehta camps agree. But up to now they have barely proved capable of agreeing to anything.

In this issue we carry an extract from Sir Homi Mody’s book Sir Pherozeshah Mehta: A Political Biography (kindly donated to Parsiana by Poona-based reader, Diana Ratnagar) that deals with the BPP election that the great liberal contested and lost around 1911 (see "No mandate for Mehta," pg 176). "It was intended as a rude rebuff to one who never tired of declaring that he was an Indian first and a Parsi afterwards. As a matter of fact, the defeat was in no sense a verdict of the community. The vast majority of the educated classes, the men of light and (learning) voted solidly for Mehta, and had it not been for the hired voters who composed the bulk of the electorate, he would have emerged triumphant, despite the machinations of his puny opponents," states the author. Mody then goes on to criticize the electoral scheme that "provided ample scope for manipulation."

The issue also focuses on another great lawyer and a liberal, Dorabji Bahadurji (1868-1956) (see "The forgotten liberal – I," pg 164) who was ostracized and subsequently forgotten by the Parsis. This because he along with Mahatma Gandhi found that B. G. Kher had fairly won the Congress party elections for chief minister of Bombay presidency, and not Khurshed Nariman. Medical historian and scholar Dr Shubhada Pandya was intrigued to know more about this man who had suffered an injustice at the hands of his community and was "a worthy sibling of the lustrous physician-patriot Dr Kaikhusrao Nasarvanji Bahadurji," the good doctor who had fought the bubonic Bombay plague that started in 1896. Pandya thoughtfully offered her extensively researched paper on Dorabji to Parsiana for publication.

Though the world congresses do not have much impact on the global community, they do provide an opportunity for the host country members to meet and mingle with Zoroastrians from elsewhere. A sense of oneness and knowing each other is a worthwhile outcome of such get-togethers. But the formation of a world Zoroastrian body, mooted at the first Congress held in Tehran in 1960, yet remains elusive. The traditionalists still oppose the concept. They believe formal relations with associations that accept non-Parsi spouses and their children as members will dilute the supposed racial purity of the Parsis. Abroad most associations accept them as members.

North America has a decades old tradition of holding continental Zoroastrian congresses that contribute to the general development of the community. North American Zoroastrians, though smaller in number and more widely spread, have persistently demonstrated dynamism, as evinced by the construction or reconstruction of numerous dar-e-mehers over the past 40 years.

There are other bright spots. Near Vansda, the priests of Navsari and Udvada who had differences in the past, prayed together at a jashan this February 24. If the rift of centuries can heal, the clergy for once could set an example to the laity of harmonious living. And in our article on recipes ("Politics per eedu," see pg 226), factions that wrangled over American politics (Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton) set aside their differences by exchanging recipes! This could be the panacea for resolving many, if not all, community conflicts. Instead of sending legal notices, parties could dispatch dar-ni-poris. This approach may douse the fire in the belly, although it may expand the waist. And on Navroz, instead of court summons, peace offerings of falooda may be made to reconcile differences and sweeten the New Year. We may have much to look forward to in the coming year.


Villoo Poonawalla