Sunday December 17, 2017

Meet India’s most humble, peaceful, and successful community- Parsis

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Parsee_Wedding_1905

By Harshmeet Singh

For most Indians, the phrase ‘maro dhikra’ is all they known about the Parsi community. Our knowledge and perceptions about the Parsis, like many other things in India, is majorly based on the Bollywood movies which show an elderly Parsi as an ideal next door neighbour. Guess what – there’s much more to the lively Parsi community than what our filmmakers choose to show us on screen.

The history & culture of Parsis 

Parsis are the followers of Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest religions. Believed to be the original natives of Iran (formerly known as Persia), Parsis began moving towards South Asia, including India, fearing a Muslim invasion in Iran in the 7th century. After the Arab invasion in Iran, their language started to be called Farsi instead of Parsi, since the letter ‘P’ is not present in the Arabic language.

For the Parsis, fire, water, earth and air are the purest elements and need to be preserved. Due to this reason, they do not follow the practice of cremation. The dead bodies are left on high towers, called the ‘tower of silence’ to be eaten by vultures, crows and hawks.

 Parsis and India

In yesteryears in Mumbai, a number of old cars meant for sale used to carry the tag ‘owned by a Parsi’. The community has long been synonymous with good education, humbleness and gentle behaviour. A witty sense of humour makes the Parsis an irresistible company. The westernized background of the community meant that they were the first ones to take advantage of the opportunities that came up with the introduction of western education. Thus the first crop of surgeons, pilot and MPs from India in the British Parliament were mostly Parsis. This explains the rise of influential Parsi families such as the Tatas and the Wadias.

When was the last time (if ever) you heard a Parsi guy involved in vandalism or coming out on the streets to protest? If you thought their population is too small to make any impact in the country anyway, you would be surprised! For a community which accounts for only 69,601 people (2001 census) out of the entire population of over 120 crore, the contribution of Parsis to the Indian history is stupendous to say the least.

Some of the famous Parsis in India include the country’s best known and most respected industrialist, Ratan Tata; the extremely famous Army Chief who led India in the Bangladesh War, Late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw; the grand old man of India, Dadabhai Naoroji; the pioneer of India’s atomic energy program, Dr Homi Bhabha; Ace musician, Zubin Mehta and the current Chairman of Tata Sons, Cyrus Mistry. The Parsis have given back to India much more than what the country has offered them. A number of trusts established by the ‘Tatas’ for different purposes are a testimony of Parsis’ love towards India. Astonishingly, Ratan Tata’s share in Tata Sons is less than 1 per cent! Majority of the Tata Sons’ stocks are held by different trusts including the Sir Ratan Tata trust that spends its profit worth billions of dollars each year to charity. While the Ambanis were busy building India’s greatest residence, the Tatas were busy building the nation.

The dwindling population

India accounts for more than half of the entire Parsi population in the world. Most Parsi families are settled in Mumbai, Pune and Gujarat. Unfortunately, their population in India has been on a constant decline for quite a while now. Some of the reasons behind such a drastic fall (115,000 in 1941 & 69,601 in 2001) in their numbers have been lack of interest in marriage, marrying at older age and inter caste marriages. The generally successful youth of the community prefer their careers over marriage in most cases which is resulting in the falling numbers. High number of divorce cases, owing to easier divorce laws as compared to the Hindu laws, has further deteriorated the situation. If the current trend continues, the number of Parsis might come down to less than 23,000 in 2020. In that case, they would be called a ‘tribe’ and not a ‘community’.

The Central Government came up with a ‘Jiyo Parsi’ initiative in 2013. Its recent ad runs with the tagline ‘Be responsible. Don’t use a condom tonight!’ Although meant at encouraging the declining Parsi population, the campaign met with some strong criticism from inside and outside the Parsi community. A number of people questioned the Government’s move to encourage such campaigns at a time when the country is already stressed under 1.2 billion people. The ad has also come under fire for putting undue pressure on the Parsi women to reproduce. Other ads under the campaign are seen encouraging the girls to marry at a younger age, without waiting for their boyfriends to become as successful as Ratan Tata!

Let us hope that some of these ads work their magic and the Parsi community sees a new light very soon because India can be a much better place with a whole lot of Parsis around!

  • Siddharth

    This article is really stupid…. So the person here has only ratan tata and what hes been doing for the nation… Well with respect… Ge is doing it… Which is him… Hes not representing the parsi community…2)what ambani does with his wealth is non of any1s concern. Builds a house or burns it… Ambanis are spending billions as charity as wel… U need to google and get facts right… 3) im not trying to say anything about parsis… But you really need to stop giving examples of ratan tata in every statement… I can list gujjus marwadis Muslims punjabis and in each community 20 names… And a 1000 charity names and trust… 4)what ratan tata does is his pereonal choice… He is not and repeat NOT representing the parsi community… Tata tata tata tata… Cmon man… Is there another name u can talk about… U seem to be more of tatas marketing team than really talking about parsis… Grow up….

  • Bakhtyar Kaoosji

    Sidharth ko gussa kyun aya?

  • Siddharth

    This article is really stupid…. So the person here has only ratan tata and what hes been doing for the nation… Well with respect… Ge is doing it… Which is him… Hes not representing the parsi community…2)what ambani does with his wealth is non of any1s concern. Builds a house or burns it… Ambanis are spending billions as charity as wel… U need to google and get facts right… 3) im not trying to say anything about parsis… But you really need to stop giving examples of ratan tata in every statement… I can list gujjus marwadis Muslims punjabis and in each community 20 names… And a 1000 charity names and trust… 4)what ratan tata does is his pereonal choice… He is not and repeat NOT representing the parsi community… Tata tata tata tata… Cmon man… Is there another name u can talk about… U seem to be more of tatas marketing team than really talking about parsis… Grow up….

  • Bakhtyar Kaoosji

    Sidharth ko gussa kyun aya?

Next Story

Parsi Community in India and What makes them Distinct from Others

10 Interesting facts about the Parsi Community in India

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A Parsi Community wedding ritual
A Parsi Community wedding ritual. Wikimedia
  • Parsi’s came from Faras, Persia, more than a thousand years ago
  • The reason of decreasing population is due to migration, declining fertility rate and late marriage
  • The religion Zoroastrianism was founded 3,500 years ago in ancient Iran by Prophet Zoroaster

New Delhi, August 19, 2017: The Parsi’s are an immigrant community, they are of Zoroastrian faith. Parsi Community came from Faras, Persia, more than a thousand years ago and are now located in Mumbai, India. They are mostly settled in old Mumbai but in recent times, they have settled in major cities and towns in India. Some of them are also found in countries like United States, Canada, England, and Pakistan.

In 1901 the Parsi population in India was around 93,952; in 1976 it was around 82,000   and in 2014 it fell down to 60,000. Since then the population has been decreasing. The reason of decreasing population is due to migration, declining fertility rate and late marriage.

ALSO READ: The decreasing number of Parsis in India and their concerns

Some of the holy Parsi festivals are Nowroz (New Year’s Day), Frawardigan (commemorating the dead souls), Pateti (the day of confession and repentance). Some of the famous Parsi people in India are Scientist Homi Jehangir Bhabha, Businessman JRD Tata, India’s first Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Former Chairman Tata Sons Ratan Naval Tata, Bollywood Actor Boman Irani, among others. Parsi community makes up a very crucial community of India despite their presence in small numbers.  Here are 10 interesting facts about them:

  • The native language of Parsi’s is Avestan but they also speak Gujarati or English. The religion Zoroastrianism was founded 3,500 years ago in ancient Iran by Prophet Zoroaster. There is a collection of religious texts of Zoroastrianism known as the Avesta. Some of their religious literature is in Pahlavi (it’s an Aramaic-based writing system used in Persia from the 2nd Century BC to the advent of Islam in 7th Century AD).
  • Birth of a Parsi child is followed by a ritual bath, a cleansing prayer, sacred items are given to him/her. The main priest conducts prayers and formally invites him/her in the community and religion.
  • Parsi’s don’t usually bury or cremate dead bodies; they leave the body so vultures can feast on it. They do this as they don’t believe in polluting air or land. It is done at a place called Dakhmas or ‘Tower of silence’. They began using electronic crematorium after there was a decline in the number of vultures after 1990.
  • The Parsi’s had to face a struggle period of 200 years when they rebelled against the Arab invaders in Iran (their home country earlier). It was called the period of silence. In order to retain their regional and cultural identity, they ran from Iran as the Arab conquered it and took refuge in Gujrat, India from 8th to 10th Century AD. Some of them later migrated to parts of Mumbai.
  • Qissa- i Sanjan is the account of the early years of Parsi settlement in India.

Also Read: Parsi community lauded for role in nation-building

  • The Parsi Community believes in the existence of one invisible God. Atash Behram (victorious fire) which is located in the fire temple is of prime importance to them. There are total 9 Atash Behram in the world, out of which 8 are located in the western India and one is located in central Iran. The Udvada Atash Behram is the oldest Zoroastrian temple and the continuously burning fire temple in the world.
  • Male-Female Ratio of Parsi Community is different than others; they have more females and lesser males. As per 2001 Census, 1050 females per 1000 males which are more than India’s average of 933 females.
  • To solve the problem of declining Parsi community in India, Jiyo Parsi Scheme was launched on 24 September 2013. It was a government supported the initiative.
  • Some say that by 2020 the Parsi population will decrease to 23,000 and this can take away from them the tag ‘community’ and can label them as tribals instead.
  • The Parsi Community has the highest literacy rate in India among any Indian communities which is 97.9% as per 2001 census.

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Next Story

Why Tata Group replaced Chairman Cyrus Mistry with his predecessor Ratan Tata?

Cyrus Mistry is the second chairman who was appointed from outside the family circle

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Ratan Tata, Flickr

October 26, 2016: One of the most respected business brands of India, Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group, unexpectedly took a sudden move on Monday by replacing Chairman Cyrus Mistry with Ratan Tata, his predecessor. Cyrus Mistry is the second chairman who was appointed from outside the family circle. He was chosen as a successor to Ratan Tata and was appointed in 2012 with high hopes to steer the company. His removal in less than four years came as a shock to the business world.

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Adding to that, there is no proper clarity as to why the decision was taken. So, the first question on everyone’s mind was, WHY?
Here are some of the theories according to the analysis of country’s major dailies:

Performance Issues

The Economic Times mentions about Ratan Tata being allegedly unhappy with Mistry’s “approach of shedding non-profit businesses, including the conglomerate’s steel business in Europe, and concentrating only on cash cows.”

It also mentions about the “fundamental disconnect between Mistry and Tata, particularly with regard to ethos, values, vision and the direction that the group was headed in. Detailed letters were sent to Mistry asking him to spell out his vision, five-year plan, etc, but the responses were vague and non-specific.”

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Contrasting Styles in Investment

Mint also writes about “contrasting styles in investment” stating the sharp contrast in the approach of Mistry and Tata. It notes, “The approach of Mistry, 48, was in sharp contrast with that of his predecessor Ratan Tata, 78, under whom the group was one of India’s most aggressive acquirers, especially of overseas assets.”
It also added, “Tata group shares may pay a price for the abrupt, opaque decision.”

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Conflict

The Business Standard speaks of the conflict that was building up and the people known were quite aware of it. It also cites the instances where Ratan Tata felt he was not informed properly about the business decisions taken by Mistry.

That being said, if Mistry takes a legal action against his sacking that could hamper Tata as he is the son of the sole largest individual shareholder in Tata Sons.

– by Pinaz Kazi of NewsGram. Twitter: @PinazKazi

 

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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

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

One response to “The decreasing number of Parsis in India and their concerns”

  1. “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”