Rayomand Coins

Hope springs eternal?

With one of the three Parsi New Years dawning, one looks for inspiration for the coming year, some reasons for cheer. Fortunately positive developments do exist. The Global Working Group is slowly metamorphosing into a world body despite opposition from the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) chairman Yazdi Desai and his south Gujarat loyalist anjumans. The Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA) is a model for how a pan-Indian body could function: democratically, observing good governance practices, earning the goodwill of their constituents and benefiting from the largesse of community members.

The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India (FPZAI), despite its undemocratic and dictatorial functioning has at least met after a two-year hiatus. In between extraordinary general meetings had been convened to advance Desai’s traditionalist agenda and consolidate his grip on the once all-India body.

But still the advantage the FPZAI has over the BPP is that its functioning is more transparent. The Parsi Press can attend the FPZAI meetings, the agenda and minutes are circulated, budgets and accounts are presented and discussed. The BPP, in contrast, is a closed book cloaked in secrecy. Selective leaks provide a grim picture of its functioning but little of its successes.

Last year’s Doongerwadi deficit is said to be close to six crore rupees, but there is no confirmation of the figure or how and where the monies are spent. Salaries for Doongerwadi employees may account for rupees one-and-a-half to two crore but not more. The cost of disposal per body is over Rs 80,000. The Bombay Municipal Corporation charges Rs 200 for cremation. Tax payers subsidize the cost.

The BPP is scrounging to raise Rs 20 lakhs to repair the dilapidated public toilets at Doongerwadi, unsuccessfully at last reporting. Even paying monthly salaries on time is a cause for worry, say trustees.

So in contrast when one receives an annual report from an anjuman with details, explanations and candor, one cannot but be impressed. The Calcutta Zoroastrian Community’s Religious and Charity Fund (CZCRCF) sent Parsiana its annual report for 2018-2019 which includes the minutes of the July 2018 annual general meeting. As the FPZAI had interfered in the internal functioning of the East Zone anjuman, violating the all-India body’s cardinal rule of not doing so, Calcutta has refrained from attending the meets. Hence the annual report is the only way of knowing what is happening in that West Bengal trust.

The report narrates succinctly how the CZCRCF copes with issues of a declining, aging population, limited funding and disproportionate fixed assets/liabilities. The dismal demographic picture "shows that 59% of the total Calcutta Parsi residents are senior citizens; 238 out of 405 are over 60 years of age."

But instead of just bemoaning the predicament, Calcutta is one of the few, if not the only anjuman to have engaged caregivers who "continue offering their dedicated services to the aged section of the community with periodic visits and medical assistance," states the report. Outings are also arranged with philanthropic community members gratuitously providing transport. Free legal assistance is provided for preparing wills, powers of attorney, tenancy issues, affidavits, etc, except for out-of-pocket expenses such as stamp paper, notarization fees, etc.

The report goes on to state, "The total non-Parsi spouses and children number 127." Despite such a high percent of non-Parsi spouses and children, the local Mehta agiary bars entry to the children of Parsi women married to non-Parsis since the past four or so years due to the adamancy of the new, traditionalist panthaky. An Originating Summons has been filed in the Calcutta High Court inquiring who has the right of entry. That case is languishing in the Court. The FPZAI chose to intervene in the case, much against the wishes of the CZCRCF.

Attempts to engage a pallbearer having failed, members of the anjuman volunteer. "On being asked whether women volunteer pallbearers would be taken by the trust, (CZCRCF trustee Numazar) Mehta replied the trustees would have no objection if the priest permitted it."

The manner in which the CZCRCF has gone about the contentious issue of selling trust property is also to be emulated. The trustees stated that they are "now ready to place the proposals to the community in a formal meeting." They "wanted each and every member to think carefully... on the implications." After explaining the financial position of the trust and the demands from the municipal corporation for taxes and arrears, if the members disapproved "the trustees would surely drop the proposal."

The trust has its detractors who portray "their disagreements or difficulties through social media and the Press." While acknowledging that differences of opinion exist, Mehta noted, the trustees go "beyond the call of duty...to serve the community at large."

Trustees of many anjumans do likewise. Some receive praise, others criticism. If trustees do not take their constituencies into confidence, all their efforts come to naught.

The rate of decline for the Calcutta Parsi population was 25% earlier which dropped to 20% in the last seven years. "Something at least to cheer," notes the report. The drop may be an indicator of what is in store for the all-India community when the 2021 census takes place. Smaller anjumans will continue to cope with shrinking and aging populations.

As the former Delhi Parsi Anjuman president Yezad Kapadia wrote in a letter to Parsiana, "If one takes a drive through towns in North India where once a thriving Parsi population lived, one will be saddened to see one burial ground after another lying uncared for and fallow" ("Extinction vs change," Readers’ Forum, Parsiana, April 7, 2019).That dismal fate awaits all the Parsi anjumans, associations and institutions in the country. This is the price one pays for failing to adapt. While some new religions flourish, some old ones flounder.

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Interesting case about the Calcutta Anjuman. <br><br>Who is the boss, the priest on monthly remuneration from the Anjuman ( a paid servant, as it was politely called not so long ago), or the Anjuman? <br><br>Take care.
- Rusi Sorabji
- 15-Aug-2019

If it wasn't for change, we would still be going around in a horseless carriage.
- Rusi Sorabji
- 15-Aug-2019


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