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One vote shy

As the vote went round the u-shaped arrangement of tables, anticipation was palpable. Would this be the historic day the leaders of the Zoroastrian federations all over the world finally agree to formalize a world body (see "Favoring formalization," pg 24)? For almost 60 years since the idea was first mooted at the First World Zoroastrian Congress in Tehran in 1960 such a body has eluded the community.

One by one each member gave her/his consent. When even the traditionalist Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trustees Armaity Tirandaz and Viraf Mehta, the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe and Dubai agreed, the proposal appeared to be almost through. But the last person Yazdi Desai, president of The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India (FPZAI) responded in the negative, citing a 2012 mandate of the all India body to justify his response.

Desai and his supporters have traditionally opposed any Zoroastrian world body and lobbied instead for a Parsi Zoroastrian body. He therefore had tried to avoid a vote being taken at the Global Working Group (GWG) meet claiming there was no consensus, and as chairman of the meet he could so rule.

But unlike in the FPZAI, the chairperson at GWG does not have such sweeping powers. As Mehta pointed out, the chairman is only the first among equals. While the FPZAI office bearers owe their allegiance to Desai, the GWG leaders are independent and mainly function on the basis of consensus, rather than diktat.

Other religious groups have world bodies. Everyone agrees an international institution is required. But not all Parsis concur on who is to be included. Would the children of interfaith married Parsi women be accepted? What about converts? Would the Zoroastrians in Kurdistan, Brazil, Russia and elsewhere be welcomed or treated as outsiders, if not interlopers?

In the 1980s, the World Zoroastrian Organisation (WZO) proposals that FPZAI join the UK based body were turned down because the WZO membership comprised individuals, not associations. Subsequently when another body was mooted comprising federations as members, a controversy arose over whether the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA) qualified for membership as their associate members were at liberty to include the children of Parsi women married to non-Parsis. Additionally, the non Parsi spouses were sometimes accepted as associate members.

Prior to GWG, a Coming Together Roundtable was formed, largely due to the efforts of former FEZANA president Rohinton Rivetna. This later crystallized into the GWG. But a formalization of this body was not acceptable to Desai as non-Parsis would have been included. A substitute world body, the World Council of Zoroastrian Trust (WCZT) located in Bombay with trustees from India for the benefit of Parsi Zoroastrians was mooted at the December 21, 2018 GWG meet in Bombay.

This religio-racial requirement is anathema to the representatives from FEZANA. The community already has such an organization, the World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis (WAPIZ), though its membership is open to orthodox individuals and largely limited to parts of Maharashtra and south Gujarat. It’s a world body only in name.

FEZANA rightly rejected the WCZT option. While they questioned the Bombay centric bias of the Trust, others pointed out that there were already numerous trusts to attend to the welfare of the disadvantaged Parsi Zoroastrians.

FEZANA president Homi Gandhi stated that 50% of the Zoroastrian population resides outside India. GWG non-executive chair Neville Shroff of Hong Kong noted the disproportionate representatives from Bombay (five) at the December meet while the other centers only had one or two representatives. FPZAI did not need so many individuals to represent one federation. One or two would suffice assuming they had the mandate of the majority of FPZAI members.

A world body’s objective should be to coordinate efforts and communications between the various regional bodies, not serve as only a social welfare body. Delegates asserted meetings should be held all over the world, not only Bombay or India even though Desai felt the cost of traveling to overseas destinations is not affordable for all.

Perhaps for the first time Desai faced opposition in public from his BPP co-trustee and one time ally, Kersi Randeria. While relations between the two have soured for some time, publicly they have not disagreed. From the discussions it was obvious that Desai had not discussed the WCZT proposal with his co-trustees. Randeria doubted the explanation that everything was done at the last moment. Specific names were cited as possible committee members to fine-tune the document, etc. There is no doubt the discussions had been continuing for a while. The last meeting was held in solicitor Burjor Antia’s Mulla and Mulla office on December 18.

Desai often acts unilaterally and dictatorially, keeping his co-trustees in the dark on many issues. He is well entrenched in the FPZAI as the body is packed with smaller south Gujarat anjuman loyalists while larger, more important centers like Delhi, Calcutta, Baroda are sidelined. Perhaps sensing the opposition from his six co-trustees, Desai has avoided calling a FPZAI meeting for over a year and a half, though the body is mandated to meet every six months.

The internal squabbling among the BPP trustees has greatly marred their image. Thus it was perplexing to hear Mehta at the Bombay GWG meet talk of a world body depriving the BPP of its "grandeur." If ever a body needed an image makeover, it’s the one-time apex Bombay trust. One has only to read the emails exchanged between Desai and Mehta to know the depths to which the BPP has sunk.

Membership in the GWG via the FPZAI would enhance the BPP’s dismal portrayal. What it would do to the GWG’s standing is still to be determined.



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"FEZANA president Homi Gandhi stated that 50% of the Zoroastrian population resides outside India." Nonsense more than 70% of the Zoroastrian population resides outside India and have no connection to India. The Zoroastrian populations of Kurdistan and Tajikistan if taken together is more than the population of the Parsi Zoroastrians in India.
- Shapour B Badri
- 18-Jan-2019

 

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