Lucknow / Mumbai: A year ago, Khurshed Dastur the Atash Behram head, the community’s holiest shrine in Udvada, Gujarat, had suggested that a crumbling fire temple in Mumbai’s Fort, be closed down because of scanty footfall, and sparked a controversy. As Parsi headcount in India fell from 69,000 to 57,000 between the 2001 and 2011 censuses, the community members have started voicing their concern over what they call as inaction of “Bombay Parsi Panchayet”—an apex body that controls the affairs.
The Parsis of Lucknow feel the Panchayet has failed to address the dwindling population issue.
Zarine Viccajee (in pic), the president of Lucknow’s Institution Awadh Girls Postgrad College, told FPJ, “The community is on the verge of extinction but the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) is not concerned at all. Their efforts in this regard are no less than idiocy.”
Viccajee says, “BPP asks community members to have more children which is a weird idea to increase the number. First, they should take an initiative to embrace all the half-Parsis.”
In Lucknow, there were 100 individuals two decades ago. The number has come down to 45, say the community. Of the 20 families, 13 stay at one colony, Anjuman.
The community welcomes non-Parsi spouses of men and their kids in the community but Parsi women marrying outside the community lose Parsi tag. Their kids are also not considered as Parsi.
HS Sepai, the community’s senior member and former chemistry teacher at St Francis School in Lucknow, says “Time has come that the non-Parsi spouses should be welcome in the community.”
Zarin Poonawala, a retired Air India official, has a different viewpoint. She said, “If the woman registers her marriage in a court, then she and her children should be accepted in the Parsi community. If the marriage is solemnised as per the rituals of Arya samaj or spouse’s religion, then they can’t be Parsi. Anyway, it is unlikely in a patriarchal society that the father would allow kids to follow wife’s religion.”
While most Parsi live in Mumbai and Gujarat, a handful are spread over many states including UP. They have roots in Gujarat from where silk and pearl trader Naurozji Dankwala migrated to Lucknow about 150 years go along with his family and staff and established his business here.
“Most Parsi are centred around Kanpur and Lucknow. Jhansi, Varanasi and Prayagraj cities have one, two and two families respectively,” says author Naresh Singh, whose book “Bharat ka Parsi Samaj” was released in Lucknow on Monday.
Incidentally, there is no Agiary or Fire Temple in Lucknow due to poor headcount. Kanpur has one. Members of other cities travel to Kanpur for their rituals.
“The older people who can’t travel, invite priests from Kanpur,” says Sepai. They have , Lucknow doesn’t have a “Tower of Silence” either, the last abode where bodies are left for the vultures to eat as the Parsi believe in ‘charity’ after death as well.
The community has a burial ground here.
Till a couple of years back, few elderly Parsis in Lucknow nursed the desire of breathing their last in Mumbai which has Tower of Silence. Declining vulture population has ended this practice as well.