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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”

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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”

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WhatsApp Announces 20 Teams To Curb Fake News Globally

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation

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WhatsApp selects 20 teams to curb fake news globally, including India. Pixabay

Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Tuesday announced that it has selected 20 research teams worldwide – including experts from India and those of Indian origin — who will work towards how misinformation spreads and what additional steps the mobile messaging platform could take to curb fake news.

Shakuntala Banaji from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Anushi Agrawal and Nihal Passanha from Bengaluru-based media and arts collective “Maraa” and Ramnath Bhat from LSE have been selected for the paper titled “WhatsApp Vigilantes? WhatsApp messages and mob violence in India”.

The research examines the ways in which WhatsApp users understand and find solutions to the spate of “WhatsApp lynchings” that has killed over 30 people so far.

The Indian government has also directed WhatsApp to take necessary remedial measures to prevent proliferation of fake and, at times, motivated/sensational messages on its platform.

Among others selected were Vineet Kumar from Ranchi-headquartered Cyber Peace Foundation (principal investigator), Amrita Choudhary, President of the Delhi-based non-profit Cyber Café Association of India (CCAOI) and Anand Raje from Cyber Peace Foundation.

They will work as a team on the paper titled “Digital literacy and impact of misinformation on emerging digital societies”.

P.N. Vasanti from Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi woll work withS. Shyam Sundar, The Pennsylvania State University (Principal Investigator) to examine the role of content modality in vulnerability to misinformation, under the topic titled “Seeing is Believing: Is Video Modality More Powerful in Spreading Fake News?”

WhatsApp had issued a call for papers in July this year and received proposals from over 600 research teams around the world.

“Each of the 20 research teams will receive up to $50,000 for their project (for a total of $1 million),” WhatsApp said in a statement.

Lipika Kamra from O.P. Jindal Global University and Philippa Williams from the Queen Mary University of London (Principal Investigator) will examine the role of WhatsApp in everyday political conversations in India, in the context of India’s social media ecosystem.

According to Mrinalini Rao, lead researcher at WhatsApp, the platform cares deeply about the safety of its over 1.5 billion monthly active users globally and over 200 million users in India.

whatsapp
WhatsApp on a smartphone device. Pixabay

“We appreciate the opportunity to learn from these international experts about how we can continue to help address the impact of misinformation,” Rao said.

“These studies will help us build upon recent changes we have made within WhatsApp and support broad education campaigns to help keep people safe,” she added.

The recipients are from countries including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Singapore, Spain, the UK and US.

WhatsApp said it is hosting them in California this week so they can hear from product leaders about how it builds its product.

“Given the nature of private messaging – where 90 per cent of the messages sent are between two people and group sizes are strictly limited – our focus remains on educating and empowering users and proactively tackling abuse,” said the company.

WhatsApp recently implemented a “forward label” to inform users when they received a message that was not originally written by their friend or loved one. To tackle abuse, WhatApp has also set a limit on how many forwards can be sent.

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation.

Also Read- Facebook Blocks Accounts Engaged in Malicious Activities

“We are also running ads in several languages — in print, online, and on over 100 radio stations — amounting to the largest public education campaign on misinformation anywhere in the world,” the company noted.

Sayan Banerjee from University of Essex, Srinjoy Bose from University of New South Wales and Robert A. Johns from University of Essex will study “Misinformation in Diverse Societies, Political Behaviour & Good Governance”.

Santosh Vijaykumar from Northumbria University, Arun Nair from Health Systems Research India Initiative and Venkat Chilukuri, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology are part of the team that will study “Misinformation Vulnerabilities among Elderly during Disease Outbreaks”. (IANS)