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A West Zone affair?

The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India, (FPZAI) executive council and annual general meeting held on April 29 and 30 this year left one with mixed feelings. On the positive side was the passage of proposed reforms to the rules, pending for almost five years (see "Faith in the Federation," pg 26). In the past any anjuman could nominate a person to represent them at the meeting, even if the person named had no connection to the place. This made it possible for any group to dominate the proceedings by packing the meeting with their party faithful. Fair elections became meaningless since the odds were in favor of those who exploited the lacuna in the rules. As a result prominent anjumans like Delhi and Baroda were sidelined, while those loyal to a particular party were elected to office.

Also, discussions on the floor of the house were dominated by a handful of loyalists who made any meaningful dialog difficult. Added to the acrimony and ill feeling created was the fallout between the trustees of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) that furthered the rift. Instead of meeting every six months, the all-India body would meet after a break of almost two years. And besides the BPP, almost no anjuman was willing to host a meeting. The few that agreed soon found there was opposition to their hosting the gathering.

During the discussion, one of the initial qualifying clauses referred to "Zoroastrians" which immediately caused a delegate Yasmine Sanjana of Bardoli to suggest the word Parsi be prefixed. The office bearers explained that a subsequent clause clarified the term as referring to Parsi Zoroastrian. But concerns about losing one’s ethnic identity were voiced. A reference was made to the Delhi Parsi Anjuman (DPA) that permitted non-Parsi spouses membership in the organization. One of the two Delhi representatives, Cyrus Engineer stated as non-Parsi spouses were members of the Anjuman, the traditionalist cause suffered. But the purported changes suggested a year ago by the members of the North Indian anjuman had been negated, he noted.

Former Delhi resident and FPZAI honorary secretary Farrokh Rustomji recalled the DPA, after admitting non-Parsi spouses as members in violation of the Federation rules that restricted membership of an anjuman to only Parsi Zoroastrians, withdrew their membership. It was replaced by the Delhi Parsi Anjuman Registered Trust (DPART). The delegate from Belgaum Cmde Medioma Bhada (Retd) who was named South Zone vice president, referred to a write-up in the Parsi Press (Parsiana) that a navjote of a child of a Parsi mother and non-Parsi father had been performed and that the initiate could legally enter the Kaikhushru Pallonji Katrak Dar-e-Mehr.

As one liberal delegate told Parsiana in passing, "In 20 years nothing has changed. (The meeting) is a waste of time."

Out of the 17 members in the North Zone only five, Delhi, Agra, Ratlam, Jhansi and Mhow were present. Delhi has been attending sporadically and once turned down an offer to host the FPZAI meet while Agra has attended after several years. There was no representative from the East Zone which includes Calcutta and Jamshedpur, and only one from the South (Belgaum). The South Zone includes Madras and Hyderabad-Secunderabad. Bangalore resigned from the FPZAI 35 years ago largely due to opposition from their late traditionalist head priest. Subsequently the new trustees contnue to stay away from the apex body.

The issue of naming a representative to the National Commission for Minorites was raised with several members voicing reservations about the candidacy of the "reformist" Dinshaw Tamboly, a former BPP trustee, managing trustee of the WZO Trust Funds and a trustee of the Worli Prayer Hall trust. The delegates pressed the FPZAI president and BPP chairman Yazdi Desai to disclose if the BPP had written supporting any candidate to which he replied he "stood admonished" for nominating the liberal Tamboly without consulting all his fellow trustees or the FPZAI. The decision was an urgent one otherwise an (unnamed) person who some were not in favor of may have occupied the post, he explained. He assured the delegates the position dealt more with socioeconomic and cultural issues rather than religious ones. The previous representative was the former DPA liberal president Dadi Mistry but during his tenure no religious reforms were reportedly initiated through the Commission.

There was also a discussion on the various percentages ranging from 51 to 80 to constitute a majority. Baman Cama of Baroda suggested 66% was adequate. But Desai appeared adamant that 80% remain for the general body to overrule the president should he bar discussion on an issue. This meant the subject in question could never be discussed, opined Cama.

The Poona Parsi Panchayat whose attendance is erratic informed the gathering that they had 20 empty flats to offer deserving Parsis who may wish to settle in the city which is around a three to four-hour drive from Bombay. The flats were for those Parsis who would reside in Poona and not for people looking for a weekend getaway. The Vyara Songadh anjuman gave a presentation on the bawal planting project on their Doongerwadi lands, an issue that had been covered by the Parsi media but of which several delegates appeared ignorant. Many anjumans expressed interest in pursuing a similar project on their vacant lands.

Another reminder of the dwindling numbers, if any were needed, came from a fairly comprehensive report on the defunct anjumans prepared by the West Zone B vice president Sam Chothia of Valsad who is the chief executive officer of the Defunct Anjumans Committee. The delegates were also informed by lawyer Manek Kalyaniwalla of Mulla and Mulla and Cragie Blunt and Caroe that the fate of the large, sea fronting property of the Tithal Sanatorium was likely to be decided soon by the Charity Commissioner (CC). He said certain irregularities by the opposing party had been brought to the notice of the CC and he felt the FPZAI had a strong case.

When BPP trustee Kersi Randeria suggested that the East Zone vice president be nominated from another Zone in the absence of any delegate from the Zone being present, Delhi’s Adil Nargolwala cautioned the Federation as it largely comprised only the West Zone. Of the 40 to 45 anjumans represented over both days only six were from outside the West Zone. That means only 13 to 15% of anjumans from the rest of India were present.

When Randeria moaned the lack of attendance from the North and East Zones, North Zone vice president Tehmton Anklesaria said "the meeting had to be sold." This, however, runs counter to the general outlook of community organizations that always look for ways to keep people out.

Anjumans who admit non-Parsi spouses can become liaison members. This would certainly apply to nearly all the associations abroad and ensure a world body of Federations can never be formed. Even Karachi permits the navjoted children of Parsi mothers wed to non-Parsis admission to the fire temple.

Why anyone would choose to become a liaison member of the FPZAI remains a mystery when so many anjumans eligible for full membership stay away or choose not to attend.


Villoo Poonawalla