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The decreasing number of Parsis in India and their concerns

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Parsi ghazal singer, Penaz Masani Image source: penazmasani.com
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New Delhi : There is something highly moving when a woman, whose people face extinction, sings of unrequited love. Love, not just for a mortal beloved but also of the mystic kind as in ghazal singing, that is a male dominated art. Take a bow, Penaz Masani, the Parsi queen of ghazal.

“There are only 70,000 of us Parsis left in India,” Masani, the only Parsi who sings ghazals and a Padma Shri awardee, told IANS in an interview, during a visit for the minority affairs ministry-hosted “The Everlasting Flame International Programme” to celebrate Zoroastrian culture and the Parsis in India.

“It was a once-in-a lifetime experience to meet all the Parsis I know in Mumbai, whyo had gathered here in Parliament House and later on the lawns of Lutyens’ Delhi,” she said.

As part of the celebrations, a two-month long exhibition titled “The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination”, that started across three venues in the capital on March 19, depicts the earliest days of Zoroastrianism to its emergence as the foremost religion of imperial Iran, followed by the 10th century maritime journey of Zoroastrians fleeing religious persecution to India, where they came to be known as the Parsis. As for the rest, the Parsi contribution to their new homeland, both in material and cultural terms, is history.

The minority affairs ministry, along with the Delhi-based Parzor Foundation, launched the Jiyo Parsi scheme in 2013 to stem the community’s decline in numbers. Jiyo Parsi has to show 30 babies born since the scheme began, with another dozen expected, and around 50 couples undergoing fertility treatment. However, a campaign that adopted slogans like “Be Responsible. Don’t Use A Condom Tonight” also raised hackles within the community of those who objected to such urging to procreate.

“The factors that have brought Parsis to this pass are late marriages, not marrying at all, decline of fertility, emigration and marrying outside the community,” Masani said.

There has been ferment within at the rigid adherence to tradition in not recognizing the offspring of Parsi women who marry outside the community. With the Mumbai Parsis recording 175 births as against 735 deaths in 2013, and intermarriages climbing to 38 percent, a Parsi former advocate-general of Maharashtra raised a furore recently when he argued that Zoroastrianism being a universal religion, Parsi women married outside the faith and their children should be permitted to enter the community’s places of worship “if they have been initiated into the faith through a navjote ceremony.”

On the other hand, the Bombay Parsi Panchayat has waged a long, legal battle to debar three priests who presided over rituals involving intermarried couples.

Masani is unique as a Parsi who has embraced the ghazal form of Urdu poetry, a genre that is heavily influenced by Islamic mysticism. To be the first to take up ghazal in a community where to be cultured also means to cultivate an ear for Western classical music, with the great Zubin Mehta as a role model, Masani is indebted to her late father, who was a Hindustani classical singer in the court of Sayaji Rao Gaekwad of Baroda in the 1930s.

With her good looks and fantastic voice Masani emerged on the scene in the 1980s at a time when ghazal as live performance was becoming popular among the urban middle class.

Ghazal poetry, which is imbued with Sufi love for the divine, had already entered popular consciousness through Bombay cinema, beginning with the playback singing of Begum Akhtar, poetry of the likes of the incomparable Faiz Ahmad Faiz and others like Sahir Ludhianvi, Jan Nissar Akhtar, Hasrat Jaipuri, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badauni, Anand Bakshi and Shailendra, all of whom have penned memorable film songs. Masani herself has sung in over 50 films.

“Because I appeared on stage at a time when only male singers were singing ghazals for the masses that I got this image of a rock star,” Masani said alluding to the late Jagjit Singh, who was the first to use the guitar in ghazals and, along with exponents like Mehdi Hassan, Pankaj Udhaas and Ghulam Ali, did much to popularize the genre post the 1970s.

“Classing me as a pop stylist of ghazal is, however, not correct because I am faithful to the classical form that I have been trained in,” she adds.

As she walked past Delhi’s Lodi monuments like a priestess of love, Masani described how in Iran, as a way of reversing the decline in Zoroastrian population after the 1979 revolution, they have revived the ancient practice of ordaining female priests, an idea opposed by Indian Parsis.

“I think the terrible conflicts we see around us based on religious identity wouldn’t happen if we had women leading the institutions,” Masani said, recalling the priestesses of ancient Greece and Rome, without forgetting the “devdasis” in the indigeneous tradition.

Among India’s religions, Sikhism, emerging as a synthesis of Hinduism and Islam, does not have priests, which were abolished by Guru Gobind Singh. Due to the faith’s belief in complete equality, women can take part in any religious function, perform any Sikh ceremony or lead the congregation in prayer. A Sikh woman has the right to become a Granthi, Ragi, and one of the Panj Piare (five beloved), and both men and women are considered capable of reaching the highest levels of spirituality.

Credits: Agenicies

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  • “I” want to have a wider reach for all my Parsi people. “I” too want a equaling of all that is Zoroastrianism in nature. A tree in a field is a tree in a field. A tree in the woods is a tree in the woods. Regardless of the nature of other trees or life. There is no reason to restrict the nature of Man to any form of restriction of Diversity. As long as a Tree is a Tree. Woman are free to be as Men have been. It’s fruit shall not change. in any way. Women are equal and the same as men. Utilize them. This is my decision. It Is “I”

  • “I” want to have a wider reach for all my Parsi people. “I” too want a equaling of all that is Zoroastrianism in nature. A tree in a field is a tree in a field. A tree in the woods is a tree in the woods. Regardless of the nature of other trees or life. There is no reason to restrict the nature of Man to any form of restriction of Diversity. As long as a Tree is a Tree. Woman are free to be as Men have been. It’s fruit shall not change. in any way. Women are equal and the same as men. Utilize them. This is my decision. It Is “I”

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Shoot The Rapist At The Sight

 And which type is contributing more dangerously to the society can easily be measured with our simple plus and minus equation

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This glaring aberration in the world of media is visible as clearly as stars in the darkness of the night.
India is plagued with a disease called Rape. Wikimedia Commons

Salil Gewali

  • India is plagued with a disease called Rape
  • There are no rigorous punishments for rape
  • Rapists openly commit crimes without anny fear

Why the clamour only for the rigorous punishment for rape and other sadistic crimes which have their roots in the mental-degeneration? Apart from the toughest punishment to the perpetrators, let’s go deeper to analyze what could be the possible  “causes”  that push men to commit rape. Why so much mental degeneration that certain individuals can stoop to the gutter being to their status, their position and social values? Well, how to address those issues is certainly a challenge. And that “challenge” certainly calls for a serious brain-storming and a serious self-assessment vise-a vise the environment in which we all are living.

Ranaghat Nun Rape Case
Rape culture in India garnered more spotlight following the Nirbhaya-gang rape, after which the issue has continue to remain a burning topic in the country. Pixabay

True, in the physical world we are highly convinced brag about that healthy environment is a must for our healthy living. Even kids know these days that we can’t breathe well if our surroundings are filled with high levels of  “toxicity”. We have well studied through our academic textbooks that people invite the environmental disaster if they keep on allowing excessive emission of CO2, CO, methane and other dangerous gases into the atmosphere. We have fully acknowledged that each tall and black chimney of the industries and the nozzles of the motor vehicles are here only to mar the beauty of this planet? What kind of damages the toxic gases are doing to our ecosystem are not at all tough job to analyze with modern appliances. Again, a lot amount of books have been published to create the awareness, to inform us about the scientifically tested measures to resolve the environmental concerns.

However, do we have the same amount of literature that pinpoint the “causes” which contribute to turning “males into perverts”? Who else is emitting the “toxic substances” that overpower the inborn sensitivity of the deviant? What are the properties of toxic filth that is polluting the mind-scape of the society? Now we have Donald Trump, the president of the USA, whom many prefer call him a pervert. At this rate, the number perverts are increasing and they have become dangerously ubiquitous. And, all those perverts have brought nightmares to the ill-fated females. We often stage candle march in protest against the rape, but remain blind to the glaring “causes”. Should we still fiddle about and be appreciative of the society that shameless covers itself with the vulgarity — the “toxicity” that might numb the sanity of males? Watch out, dear friends, those perverts have begun to see even “baby girls” as objects of lust!

Please note:  what our sages said:  “What you see that you think, what you think that you do and what you do that become !!!!”

Also Read: Eat Grapes To Ward Off Depression

Again, I would like to draw another similarity with what prompt big people to “rape”/violate the harmony of the Mother Earth. The case is very regularly brought out by the conscious citizens across the country. A senior journalist Patricia Mukhim of Meghalaya has pointedly driven home recently how the “greed for money” has corrupted many leaders who are trying hard to justify the senseless exploitation of the “body” of Mother Earth. Many big shots of big companies struggle to convince the politicians to tweak the laws to grant the permission to perpetually “rape” the country.

In my mind, both are infected with common syndromes! While the one type is interested in the body of the females, the other type has a fetish for the rocky body of the “Mother Earth”. And which type is contributing more dangerously to the society can easily be measured with our simple plus and minus equation.

The rape victims are not getting the justice they deserve.
The rape victims are not getting the justice they deserve.

Let’s assess the issues from another angle, given the advancement of medical science. Till some years back malaria, dengue, cholera, HIV, smallpox were life-taking diseases. But the medical science has pretty successfully eradicated or contained them all. The scientists have correctly identified the causes of those dangerous diseases and recommended the remedial measures. No doubt, that is a very productive achievement. However, why have the modern studies practically failed to “identify the causes”  of the pandemic rise of the horrendous instances of rapes and criminality associated with them? Is it not a strong slap in the face of the modern civilization considering we have not yet spelt out the causes and the characteristic symptoms the  “toxic emitters” who turn decent males into sadists? How long will we endure the depravity which has already strangulated the decency of the society? Should we still wait to work out the tough laws? Should we still hitch to explore for the “causes” and remedial measures? I guess the time is ripe that each morally conscious individual be allowed a shotgun to shoot the “perversion and depravity” of any kind at sight!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.