Rayomand Coins

The young ones

An indication of the interest the young are taking in community events was manifest when the bookings for the Eighth World Zoroastrian Youth Congress (WZYC) to be held in London from July 21-26, 2023 were filled up within seven hours of opening. Some eager applicants in different time zones stayed awake the entire night to ensure they did not miss out on registering early. Many hopefuls were turned away. Even at the World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce (WZCC) annual general meeting held online this January 14, a plea was voiced by one member to try and accommodate those youth who were unsuccessful in enrolling.

For Parsis who bemoan the alleged lack of interest in community activities among the young, this should be a revelation. The youth congresses are organized by the youth, for the youth, with minimum oversight and interference, if any, from the elders. The venue, subjects for discussion, speakers and events are built around the participants’ expectations. That the young are undoubtedly doing a competent and meaningful job managing the event is apparent from the response the July meet generated.

With the hosting of the North American Zoroastrian congresses every other year and the successful holding of the 12th World Zoroastrian Congress (12WZC) in New York last July, the youngsters who participate in the organization and management of these occasions gain valuable and relevant experience.

In India, the Federation of Zoroastrian Youth Associations of India (FOZYA), initiated by the late Keki Gandhi, former joint honorary secretary of The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India (FPZAI), has held 29 all-India meets over the many years. The body is now run mainly by Poona based businessman Mabrin Nanavatti. The prior leaders of the organization including Jehangir Bisney of Secunderabad-Hyderabad, Pervez Irani of Dahanu and the late Porus Karanjawalla of Ahmedabad did the same. The two federations are not legally tied together as Gandhi feared undue interference by the elders in the working of the youth body. But FOZYA is occasionally given a platform, though not a vote, at the FPZAI meets.

Children of Parsi mothers married to non Parsis are allowed to participate at these get-togethers though at one meet some participants/organizers reportedly objected to their entry into the fire temple.

It is this mindset that alienates the more open-minded section of the community. Two of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trustees who attended the 12WZC informally commented the emphasis was on the nomenclature Zoroastrian rather than Parsi. They found this unacceptable. Thus it is no surprise that the BPP wrote a letter to the WZCC president Capt Percy Master opposing his move, voiced at the India region’s 19th annual general meeting on September 24 last year, to include non-Parsis as associate members of the organization without the right to vote or avail of any of the facilities offered to Parsis.

This is a case of a dwindling, dying community hastening its own death. For nearly 115 years following the judgment of Bombay High Court Justices Dinshaw Davar and Frank Beaman in The Parsi Punchayet Case, the community is fixated on how and who to keep out of their institutions. As a result our numerous fire temples lie bereft of worshippers and our hospitals and clubs are grossly underutilized. The Ripon Club annual report for 2021-2023 shows two new members, six resignations, eight deaths; the total membership stands at 753 with one of its two floors unutilized. Still their "Explanatory Note" at the start of the annual report states as always no "lady member is entitled to vote or attend the meeting."

One wonders how successful a WZYC or any other in Bombay would be with this approach? In 1978 when the traditionalist B. K. Boman-Behram was the chairman of the BPP and Shiavax Nargolwala, the liberal president of the Delhi Parsi Anjuman, the two differed on what could be discussed at the Congress. A compromise was arrived whereby the chairpersons of each session were empowered to stop any discussion if disorder was anticipated or occurred. Subsequent to the successful hosting of the Congress, the BPP stormed out of the FPZAI claiming the Delhi president had criticized the archaic BPP trusteeship election scheme on the floor of the Congress. Only BPP trustee Eruch Desai opposed Bomexit.

So, merely holding meetings may serve little constructive purpose. It’s what the meeting accomplishes that is the criterion to judge its worthiness.

At a press conference called by the 1978 Congress organizers, a reporter asked the BPP trustees present why there was a gap of 13 years between the holding of the second and third congresses. "Because," replied BPP trustee Jamshed Guzder, "No one took an interest (see "Editor’s Column," Parsiana, January 1978)." Even to host an FPZAI meeting, physical or online, is a mammoth undertaking. No FPZAI meeting has been held for over three years. One was finally scheduled for January 21 and 22, 2023.

People often claim the FPZAI is merely a talk shop. At one FPZAI meeting the then president Yazdi Desai told delegates that letters written to the body would be replied to within a year! No wonder then that skeptics inquire what the body has achieved, which defunct anjuman’s property they have sold (none), which problems they have solved.

In the present scenario, however, the mere holding of any FPZAI meeting is an accomplishment. Counting on anything more is wishful thinking. Many of the major anjumans stay away from the body. Attendance is largely from the nearby Gujarat anjumans whose allegiance was with Desai. The BPP trustees, barring Desai’s wife, Anahita, do not have much contact, familiarity or influence with the other anjuman leaders. For at least three of the seven BPP trustees, this will be their first FPZAI meet. Who will lead the institution and in which direction is to be seen.

But still the decision to finally hold the meeting is a major step forward for the generally inward looking, xenophobic BPP board. Maybe one day India may evolve to hold a meaningful and engaging world congress. The hosting of the FPZAI meet after over three years is a first, baby step.


Villoo Poonawalla