Saturday, November 15, 2008

Liberal USA Zoroastrians admit InterMarriage is destroying the community

To all Parsi/Irani Zarthoshtis

Please find below an editorial from "USHTA", the March-June 2008 issue
of the newsletter published by Zoroastrian Studies, Mumbai.

The editorial provides very interesting reading and offers an
intriguing analogy, highlighting some very major issues being faced by
our community, as well as shedding light upon the various roles played
by many in our community, including the Parsi Press mainly in Mumbai.

The reasons for distributing this particular piece of writing are
two-fold. First, it offers a different perspective and is an
admirable attempt to make the community aware of some of the
happenings in the background of the community politics. Secondly, a
more important reason for sharing this information is so that persons
of influence and community leaders from the entire Parsi/Irani
Zarthoshti community worldwide are able to reflect with sound wisdom,
courage, and a gracious spirit, and undertake cooperative action
towards genuinely promoting Unity, Peace and Harmony amongst
Parsi/Irani Zarthoshtis.

After all, to reiterate what has been said before, let us focus and
channel our energies towards working constructively and
collaboratively on the 80% or more issues that the community is in
agreement with, as opposed to engaging in divisive and destructive
words and actions in an attempt to promote the 20% or less of issues
that the community differs on. It is especially necessary and
incumbent upon the entire community and particularly those in
positions of influence to follow this route, in order to reassure and
renew the hope for the young members of the Parsi/Irani Zarthoshti

Let us all commit to putting a decisive STOP to the "Bushkazi" game
and collectively strive towards enhancing the Parsi/Irani Zarthoshti
experience for our youth and towards bringing about Unity, Peace and
Harmony within our cherished community.

Please feel free to share this with other Parsi/Irani Zarthoshtis you
may know. Thank-you.

Hushtasp R. Bhumgara


Playing Bushkazi with the Parsi Irani Community

Bushkazi is a sport played in various forms across Central Asia, the
North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is
favoured for its dexterity, the exhilarating pace and the adrenaline
rush it gives, by the swift wheeling in of the horses, exhibiting the
skills of the rider and the powerful control he displays over the
horse he rides. It's a man's game, women players are unheard of. The
focus of the game is usually the decapitated head of a goat or its
carcass, which becomes the "Polo ball" and it is prodded, pushed and
picked up at full gallop and flung towards the goal post.

The bizarre object of the sport, and the cheers it brings from the
bystanders who come to watch the riders, completes the effect. But it
is after all a man's game, macabre and machismo to the finish,
non-productive in the achievement of its end goal, serving little
purpose except to establish the domination of man over speed, horses
and a goat's carcass. The winning team is served pilaf with meat
taken from the decapitated goat - the reward for winning the game.
The parallels between the bushkazi game and the big power pushers in
the Parsi Irani community are plenty.

Just as a game of Bushkazi is arranged and a goat chosen to be
decapitated so also are controversies in the community chosen, created
and nurtured and a scapegoat identified, in order to be pummeled and
vilified, so that a few in positions of power get their moment of
glory and satisfy their need to dominate and make money. The ante is
stepped up and the community is kept at a constant pressure point,
ready to burst. Then suddenly, people who have been attacking each
other for months and vilifying each other while enjoying the blood
letting, come to a compromise and principles loudly touted, are
abandoned and all that remains, is that a few usually get rich and
even more powerful.

The BPP over the last three years has been slapped with article 41-D
under the Charity Commissioners Act, accused of jailable offences
(with facts and figures in the Parsi Press) of having misused
community assets, of nepotism in allocation of houses, of being in
breach of duty as trustees and of making an unholy mess of the
doongerwadi. Suddenly after subjecting the community to years of
abuse and intemperate language the situation is defused by the Parsi
media, the controversies are no more – slumbering to be resurrected
for another time. A dishonourable peace is bought, with both parties
benefiting. A compromise to the detriment of the community and its
many trusts is often worked out. Documents which should not be signed
are signed and the community is the eventual loser. Involved in this
name game are not just trustees but members of the Parsi press as well
and once the individual game plan is achieved all is once more at
peace. The permanent loser is the community which is the 'goat's
head' to be prodded, thrown, bandied and then discarded, at the cost
of the community's reputation and history.

Interfaith Marriages and the Parsiana Journal:

An overview of the various community controversies played out in the
last 25 years, indicates that it swings between 3 or 4 major issues.
The dakhmas, conversion, interfaith marriages and their progeny, and
trust properties. At the crux of all these is interfaith marriages.
Beginning with R.D. Tata's marriage to a French woman – certainly not
the first Parsi to marry out, but his case became a cause celebre in
1903, because of who he was and because, through the power and
position of the Tatas, they were able to overcome community laws,
priestly reservation and basically cock a snook at religious laws, to
go ahead with their choosing. That line of R. D. Tata, died with JRD
Tata's death and the turmoil that the community was put through, in
retrospect some say, served little purpose for the Tata family itself.
But what it did do, was it encouraged others in the community, to
break with the long held customs and traditions of our ancestors.
Today this approach has given rise to an almost evangelical approach
to admitting non-Zoroastrians, a position taken by many in the North
American community, who have over the last quarter of a century,
welcomed the hybridization of the community and syncretization of the
religion, by encouraging such marriages with the hope that we as a
community will go forth and multiply.

In India the policy followed by Parsiana the community journal, has
over the years become far more radical in its approach than that
followed by the Fezana journal in North America. At times, Parsiana
seems to raise high to the roof and extol the value of marriages out
of the community, almost as if it is the ideal to achieve by every
Parsi and Irani and that by not marrying out, the rest of the
community is somehow not being good Zoroastrians.

Parsiana's main stay in their argument in favour of children of
interfaith marriages and conversions, has been that it will prevent
the religion from dying out by creating more Zoroastrians. The fact
that there are already thousands if not millions in the world who
claim they are practising Zoroastrians, having converted to the faith
is ignored.

That the numbers of those having converted to Zoroastrianism are not
taken into account by Parsiana in the demography of the Zoroastrian
community worldwide, given their reformist stand, is puzzling. If
Parsiana includes and accepts these new converts, as per their own
reformist stand, then surely the religion is in absolutely no danger
at all, of dying out. In fact it is the original Parsi Irani
community which is in danger of being marginalized and taken over.

The real truth, difficult as it is to swallow, is not the fall in the
number of Zoroastrians, but the supposed decline in the members
forming the Parsi Irani community. But in the spin doctoring, that is
often created in community politics, it is easy to lose sight of
reality and therefore Parsiana's constant propaganda, to increase the
number of Zoroastrians in the community, is in effect the
non-recognition of the number of Zoroastrian converts in the world who
have already beaten Parsiana to the finish line.

This suggests, that Parsiana is either missing out on the pulse of
what is happening in the world, or that reality for Parsiana, is
limited and shaped only by what is happening within the microcosmic
Parsi community of India and not by the numerous Zoroastrian converts
who follow the faith worldwide.

Parsiana must either decide that it accepts conversions as a valid way
to become Zoroastrian and if so then they must accept that the world
population is not on the decline but rather on the increase, or it has
to believe that we need to increase the number of "ethnic Parsis and
Iranis" and this cannot be done through conversion or the children of
Parsi women married to non-Zoroastrians. This simple logic escapes
the editor of Parsiana.

"Inter-faith Marriages Are Destroying the Community" – Rohinton Rivetna.

In India, impetus to conversion has been given greater force only in
the last ten years, while North American Zoroastrians have been
actively encouraging inter-faith marriages and the assimilation of
children of such marriages for over three decades. Since the 1980s a
galaxy of the old guard now in their 70s and 80s Adi Davar, Kaikhosrow
Irani, Lovji Cama, Rohinton Rivetna, Dolly Dastoor, Firdosh Mehta,
Jehan Bagli and amongst the Iranians, the late Rustam Sarfeh, Farhang
Meher, Dariush Irani and Dr. Anooshirvani have all promoted this
vision of a community which must grow through interfaith marriages, in
North America.

They have together as a community, sanctioned, praised and encouraged
all such marriages for over twenty five years and have relished the
marginalization of the brow beaten and often inarticulate,
traditionalists of North America. So much so, that it became a
cardinal sin for a traditionalist to even voice an opinion or uphold
one's views in public. Dissent meant, ostracism so effectively
practised, that no traditionalists would be invited anywhere. Shunned
from society and left with no choice, many middle of the road North
Americans, either withdrew from Zoroastrian Associations, or fell into
line – the power base was liberal and the attitude typically American
– "If you are not with us – you are against us".

But something strange is happening in North America today. Most
children who are the progeny of inter-faith couples were welcomed over
the years, with open arms by the "Zoroastrian" community, in North
America. Their children's navjotes were done by the priests, they
attended jashans, all religious ceremonies and community functions and
even their weddings to non-Zoroastrians, were done by Parsi Priests.
However, many of these inter-married couples, have today drifted away
and broken their link with the Parsi Irani community in North America.
One old timer from North America moaned recently, and asked, "What
did we do wrong, we welcomed them for everything, but now after
marriage, these kids have distanced themselves. They never come to
our classes and don't even come for the NoRuz function".

This was brought home to the Parsis and the Iranis by none other than
Rohinton Rivetna the founder member of Fezana and ex-President of the
Zoroastrian Association of Metropolitan Chicago, who spoke in January
at the annual "Round Table Conference" in Dadar.

One of the topics of the Round Table Conference, was "Inter-faith
Marriages". When some orthodox members, objected to the inclusion of
such a topic, others intervened and said there was nothing wrong in
discussing it. (As if for the last 25 years the issue of inter-faith
marriages has not been discussed with crippling and divisive

Rohinton Rivetna, stood up to make the opening remarks and what he
said left community members gasping with shock and abruptly brought to
an end, the topic of Inter-faith marriages. He said and we quote,
"Inter-faith marriages are destroying our community. Even though we
performed the navjotes of children born of such inter-faith marriages
in North America, yet they have drifted away and do not stay within
the fold". Rivetna must be given credit for being brave enough to
speak the truth when he has been one of the original architects of the
assimilation theory. He is the first North American official who has
had the courage to put in words what many have suspected for a long
time. Despite the North American community's enthusiasm and devotion
towards children of interfaith marriages, why has this happened?

Perhaps it is because, our numbers are small and it's easier to fall
into the ways, customs, traditions and religion of the host culture,
especially if our own religious base is weak. Perhaps we as a
community are just too "weird" (to quote an American teenager) for a
child with a divided heritage to take on as his own. The reasons are
many and solutions are not discernable. So as things stand we will
continue to thrash our culture, customs and traditions to make it fit
our personal needs and the more we do it, using the usual sledge
hammer approach, the more youth will be turned away and none more than
the children of mixed marriages. Perhaps for too long, we have been
telling our kids that Zoroastrianism is only about good thoughts,
words and deeds and if that is a truism one wishes to promote in
America or in India, then such a religion can in effect be followed
anywhere, anytime and even within the paradigm of a different religion
and this is something to give thought to.

So if we take cognizance of what a founder member of Fezana and a well
respected figure of the Chicago Metropolitan Association has said,
this should be an eye opener to all who are looking to encourage
inter-faith marriages. This is a lesson in the making for AIMZ ARZ
who are now at this late stage in India, embarking upon a step, taken
by North American Zoroastrians 30 years ago. The results of this have
been amply brought to the fore by Rohinton Rivetna at the Round Table
Conference when he said, "Inter-faith marriages are destroying the

Perhaps it's time to stop playing bushkazi with the community, because
pulling and pushing the community in many directions will eventually
cause more damage and hurt it beyond repair and then the rebuilding of
it, may prove to be nigh impossible.

The multiple fractures caused in the community by controversial issues
are the following: The conversion mania by those who see too little
and know even less of the religion and history, housing and its
related problems and issues of selling of trust lands with little
money going back to the trusts; The building of grandiose luxury
flats on community lands meant for the poor and giving flats away at
discounted prices to the rich and at the same time, disenfranchising
the poor and sending them to live in Vashi and Vasai, leaving our
Parsi schools, colleges and hospitals empty and under-utilized. The
doongerwadi and the dakhmas being "bushkazied" for years out of a
determined, assuaging of self interest, and trees at the doongerwadi
and in Parsi colonies, being mercilessly hacked. All this gives the
impression of a community which is up for grabs by those wielding
money and power.

If a roll call of the major players of the community is taken, the
traditionalists, the orthodox, the Khshnoomists, the liberals or the
Ultra reformists, what clearly stands out is the fact, that they
cannot set aside their desire of personal gain for the sake of the
community and above all do not have the strength to discern and
analyze the problems faced by the community nor the intellectual
rigour to come up with solutions. We are constantly reminded of our
small numbers and this is a problem, for the real danger is, that
because the "pool" is small, not many can come to the fore to solve
the problems or even be able to see the problems, unless it affects
them personally.

There is a need to do a comprehensive anthropological and sociological
study of the dilemmas faced by a tiny community such as ours and
analyze the actions taken by the community and compare its responses
with smallness in size. There is therefore a need to create a pool of
intellectuals from the Parsi community and various non-Zoroastrian
communities and ask them to help us. Again if someone takes up this
idea, then the danger is that in all likelihood, it will be filled by
the very Parsis who have actively been bent on destroying the
community and then we will be back where we are today, playing a game
of bushkazi with a community that has willingly decapitated itself.

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