Covid cremation costs

With those Parsis dying of the Covid-19 virus being denied by the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) the use of Doongerwadi for disposal, the crematorium adjoining the Worli Prayer Hall has come into community focus. WhatsApp messages have been making the usual rounds inquiring about and criticizing the Hall charges, prayer costs and so on. Allegations have been also levied at the Prayer Hall Services and Maintenance Trust (PHSMT) that manages the facility claiming on the one hand the Hall is reportedly available for free but on the other hand Rs 6,000 is being charged for its use.

Blogger Jamshed Irani posted a telephone conversation he had with the Hall coordinator Ervad Framroze Mirza about the charges, formalities, trustees, etc. The normally cantankerous Mirza replied patiently and directed Irani to the PHSMT website where he said all the charges, list of trustees and other particulars are posted. Irani, however, persisted with inquiring if a particular lawyer was a trustee (he is not) till Mirza finally had to cut the conversation short stating he had two uthamnas (funerary prayers recited usually on the third day after death) to make arrangements for, plus he had other duties.

Community activist and Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) critic Arzan Ghadially in an email to Mirza noted while "It was my parents’ wish to be cremated...if you recollect we had a massive argument...when we asked you for a receipt...You refused...You were also very rude.” He wanted to know why Rs 6,000 was being charged for the Hall, "while (PHSMT chairman) Tamboly states the Hall is free.”

In a five page letter to Ghadially dated August 3, 2020, Tamboly replied that while Mirza was appointed coordinator by the Trust, "He is by no means the only panthaki entitled to organize prayers.” Tamboly noted the charges of Rs 48,000 that included use of the Hall were the "maximum” that could be charged. Mirza notes he has charged less if parties were economically disadvantaged. "We are satisfied that the rates put out by our Trust are on the lower side as compared to the rates charged at Doongerwadi,” Tamboly pointed out.

Noting the PHSMT "has very limited funds,” Tamboly said they relied "on donor support” to maintain the property which is owned by the BMC. He also noted it is incumbent on the community to support priests, "A large percentage...who are not attached to any agiary or atash behram.” Tamboly noted the compulsion to pay for all four days of the funerary prayers was introduced only during the Covid period. The BPP and the high priests had permitted the remaining three/four day prayers of the Covid dead to be performed at any fire temple, a relaxation not permitted earlier for those who opted for cremation.

Tamboly noted that family members could opt to perform the geh sarna prayer in the parking lot of the Prayer Hall and the subsequent ceremonies elsewhere without paying anything to the coordinator or the Trust, which anyway does not receive any of the payments made by the family to the coordinator.

He added "families of deceased are free to bring their own priests to have the geh sarna done at the crematorium if they do not wish to have the four days ceremonies performed at the Prayer Hall.

"Like the mobeds attached to agiaries do not perform the four days prayers for those cremated based on religious injunctions, the mobeds at Prayer Hall have taken the stand they would do prayers for all four days or none at all. In such circumstances if the families of deceased wish to have geh sarna done at crematorium and other ceremonies at agiaries their mobeds should be ready to perform even the geh sarna at the crematorium."

In a statement on August 5, Tamboly further clarified "The WZO Trust Funds has permitted gratis use of their office at Opera House to the PHSMT for administrative purposes, including as their mailing address for the purpose of receiving letters. The WZO Trust Funds also offers gratis administrative support to the PHSMT from time to time.

"Two of the current trustees of The World Zoroastrian Organisation Trust, The WZO Trust Fund and The WZO Trust for Women and Children are also trustees of the PHSMT (which) has a total number of nine trustees.”

Photo: Parsiana archives