Monday, February 8, 2016

TheParseeVoice: Article detailing the community's stand on conversion and inter-marriages

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From: The Parsee Voice
Date: Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 9:33 PM
Subject: TheParseeVoice: Article detailing the community's stand on conversion and inter-marriages

Dear Readers,

Whether the Zoroastrian religion permits conversion and intermarriage or not, has been the subject matter of great speculation since the 19th century. Views and counter views were exchanged and still continue to be. Important in all this is the mindset of the Parsee community on this issue since those days, which found expression through resolutions passed by Samast Anjuman meetings.

In the attached article, I have attempted to put together the scenarios that existed in the earlier centuries and shown how strongly the community opposed any such attempts to foist conversion and intermarriage on them. 

The religious explanations on this subject will be covered in a subsequent write-up.

H. M. Mistry

Mixed marriages and Conversion – A historical perspective from the 19th and 20th centuries – H. M. Mistry

In the last hundred years or so, the subject of Juddin Navjotes and Marriages has been discussed repeatedly in the Parsee community. Many Parsees have voiced concern over the wrong projection that children of Parsee fathers and Juddin mothers can have their Navjotes performed as this is done by misrepresenting the Davar -Beaman judgement.  Since this topic keeps rearing its head in the community despite such discussions having been held over the decades, there is a need for putting down in one place, the background of modern Parsee history in this respect as also the religious canon.

The advocacy of conversion did not and does not arise from an alleged anxiety for the survival of the community. It is merely an attempt to justify the marriages of Parsee men and women outside the community. There are three props on which the Juddin champions base their arguments viz.:
1) That our scriptures advocate conversion of an alien to the Zoroastrian Religion;
2) That Justice Davar's and Justice Beaman's Judgements lay down some legal definition of a Parsee, which is binding on the Parsees and constitutes the law of the land; and
3) That if we do not accept as Parsee Zoroastrians the children of Parsee fathers and non-Parsee mothers and of Parsee mothers and non-Parsee fathers, our population will be reduced to zero.

Each of these props is hollow and even decayed from its interior. The scriptures are turned and twisted beyond any reasonable limit.

Since about 1300 years of our stay in India, there were no Juddin marriages to show.  We may safely say that upto 1600 A.D., the recorded history of Parsees does not reflect any Juddin marriage problem. In 1599, Mobed Bahman Kekobad recorded Parsee history in his famous Kisseh Sanjan.  No mention can be found of mixed marriages in his entire writings. Nor can any such mention be traced in the famous ‘Parsi Prakash’ volumes that constitute the Parsi Panchayat records. Similarly, the history of the Parsi Panchayat, as recorded by Sir Jivanji Mody, does not reflect any incidence of mixed marriage.

In 1818, records have it that some Parsee males clandestinely got performed the Navjotes of their children born of their non-Parsee mistresses.  In those days, the Parsi Panchayat was not a Board of Trustees but comprised of grand, wealthy Akabars or Sethias, who genuinely felt and worked for the welfare of the Parsee community and Zarthoshti Deen.  In 1818, for the very first time, these Akabars passed certain resolutions against such clandestine Juddin Navjotes. At that time, these gentlemen wielded great influence over the community members.

In 1830, a Samast Parsee Anjuman meeting was held at the Dadyseth Agiary in Fort, when 9 resolutions were passed. One among the many stern (original in Gujarati) resolutions passed read, “Very recently, we find that some offspring of Parsee men keeping non-Parsee mistresses, have been taken into the Parsee fold, which act has disgraced our religion! It is, therefore, that we have organised this protest meeting whose proceedings will be on record with the Parsee Panchayat and copies thereof are being sent to the Akabars of other towns, requesting them to ensure that children of such mistresses are not taken into the Zoroastrian faith by performing such clandestine Navjotes. On growing up, such children should not be allowed to marry in the Parsee community and their bodies should not be consigned to our consecrated Dakhmas.” The resolutions were signed by more than 50 famous personalities of the community including Nowrojee J Wadia, Bomanji H Wadia, Framji Cowasjee Banaji, Modi Sohrabji Vatcha Gandhi, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, etc.

In the years 1835 to 1850 many such resolutions were passed, yet such clandestine Juddin Navjotes occurred. Framji Cowasjee had observed that the more lenient the stand taken for Parsee males keeping mistresses and getting their offspring initiated and even married into the community, the more licentious would Parsees turn out to be. Thus, in 1836, Parsi Panchayat passed a resolution that such Mobeds performing mixed marriages would be excommunicated! Those were the days when such Akabars wielded extensive power to deprive such deviants from being recognised as a Parsee or availing of any right to enter any consecrated fire temple and even of availing any benefit from any Parsee institution.

Two points here are pertinent to note:
(1)   Although such unauthorised Navjotes were extremely rare in the 19th century, Parsees were so perturbed by their performance, that they called Samast Anjuman Meetings to condemn them!
(2)   Today, it is being argued that the father’s sins should not be visited upon the child and, therefore, the child’s Navjote should be performed.  The Parsees of the last century did not have such false, maudlin sentiments.  Since no one can do much about Parsee men cohabiting with non-Parsee women, Parsees of yore had at least that good sense to ostracise Mobeds who betrayed their religious tenets, and they deprecated such “Navjotes”.   

On 26.06.1882, Roj Khorshed Mah Dae, i.e. on our Prophet’s diso, our community bore sad witness to the infamous Mazgaon Juddin Navjotes, where the Navjotes of certain adults (even 35 to 40 years of age) were performed publicly by one Dastur Jamasp Minocheher JamaspAsa.

The landmark Davar - Beaman Judgement (Sir Dinsha M. Petit & others, Plaintiffs V/s Sir Jamsetji J. Jijibhai & others, Defendants):

In 1903, Mr, Ratan D. Tata married a French lady whose name was conveniently changed to Soonai. Kaikhusroo Jamaspasa (not the High Priest with the same name today) performed the Navjote of the said Soonai in the morning and conducted the marriage ashirvad ceremony the same evening!  This was indeed an unprecedented act of profanity that raised an uproar in the entire Parsee community, which publicly refused to accept Soonai as a Parsee, enjoying normal Parsee rights such as entry into consecrated fire temples, etc.

A public meeting of Parsees was called and a committee of 196 members was appointed to look into the burning question of conversion. This committee appointed a sub-committee of 35, wherefrom a further sub-committee of 11 scholars was finalised. These 11 gave their report that the Zoroastrian religion enjoined and encouraged conversion. This report was forwarded to the sub-committee of 35 and then to the committee of 196.

This matter ultimately landed in another public meeting on 16.4.1905 called by Jehangirji Vimadalal at Albless Baug, where many important resolutions were passed against Juddin navjotes and marriages. That meeting saw the community rejecting the 11 scholars report.  Whatever the scriptures might be saying, we do not want to mix ourselves with other communities because we want to survive as a race of Zoroastrians with all its inherent genetic characteristics and with all its spiritual and religious institutions and practices. That was the sound thinking which prompted the meeting to pass 3 resolutions. The first resolution torpedoed the report of the learned 11. The second resolution resolved to boycott those Mobeds and Priests who performed any Juddin navjote (whether of a child by Parsee father or Parsee mother) and the third resolution declared in clear terms that there was no custom of admitting the children of Parsee father and non-Parsee mother into the religion and no such child would be admitted or accepted as a Parsee.

In the capacity of plaintiffs, Mr. Ratan D. Tata and the members of Petit family filed a case which was heard for 3 years. On behalf of the defendants, Sir Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy and other Akabars of the Parsi Panchayat, Jehangirji Vimadalal fought a fierce battle in court in the Division Bench of Justices Sir Dinsha Davar and Beaman.

The two main questions in the case were:
(1)   Whether the defendants were validly appointed trustees of the properties and funds of the Parsi Punchayet, and whether, in the event of death or resignation of one or more of them they had the right of filling up the vacancy or vacancies as they occured.
(2)   Whether a person born in another faith and subsequently converted to Zoroastrianism and admitted into that religion was entitled to the benefit of the religious institutions and funds mentioned in the plaint and now in the possession and under the management of the defendants.

The judgement in both these two issues was emphatically negative. The Justices held that:

1) The defendants were not validly appointed trustees of the funds and Parsi Punchayat Trustees should be elected and an electoral college be formed for the purpose.
2) There were very clear authorities for holding that a well-established and ancient usage prevailing amongst a community must over-ride such of the tenets of the religion as are shown to have fallen into desuetude and conflict with ancient usage prevailing in the community. The result was that they dismissed the suit so far as it sought relief on all points relating to the conversion of Juddins and their right to participate in the Charitable Funds and Institutions in the possession and under management of the defendants.

The judgement does not lay down any law further than this. There are, of course, references to the children of Parsee fathers by non-Parsee mothers in the judgement; but as pointed out to our community hundreds of times, these references constituted Obiter Dictum and did not lay down any law. Obiter dictum is Latin for a word said "by the way", that is, a remark in a judgment that is "said in passing". It is a judge's expression of opinion uttered in court or in a written judgement, but not essential to the decision and therefore not legally binding as a precedent.

Thus, it is as clear that the judgements of Davar J. and Beaman J. did not lay down any legal definition of a Parsee nor did they set out the alleged binding law that a child of a Parsee father and non-Parsee mother is a Parsee and should be accepted as a Parsee! Brazenly misusing and misquoting this vital judgement, Parsee deviants (even today) have been propagating the falsehood that this judgement allows the Navjote of offspring of Parsee fathers and non-Parsee mothers to be performed.

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya wrote to Jehangirji Vimadalal: “I honour your community for its desire to keep up its purity of blood and its tenacious strength and character which have enabled it to live and flourish so long with distinction.”

In 1914, a third Jamaspasa came in the limelight when he went to Rangoon (Burma) to perform the Navjote of a child born of a non-Parsee father and a Parsee lady.  This matter later developed into the infamous Saklat V/s Bella Case. The orthodox lobby lost the case right upto the High Court level. Once again Jehangirji Vimadalal stepped in and won the case at the Privy Council level through his astute cross examination of witnesses and proper presentation of facts. Thus, here too, the Privy Council overruled the erroneous Bombay High court judgement. 

Even after the court case, the community went on resisting any attempt to bring in the Juddin question. The most noteworthy step in this direction was the a meeting of all the Parsee priests held in 1914, which resolved that no Navjote of a child of a Parsee father and non-Parsee mother would be performed by any Priest.

The years 1918, 1919, 1929 and 1930 witnessed many Samast Anjuman Sabhas and the passing of resolutions to the effect that such deviants would just not be taken back into the Parsee fold.

The next important event was the publication of ‘Zoroastrian Theology’ by Dr. Maneckji Dhalla and ‘Zoroastrianism Ancient and Modern’ by Ervad Phiroze Masani. Dr. Dhalla’s book was to become the Bible of the advocates of the Juddin lobby. However, the same Justice Dinsha Davar of the Davar-Beaman duo, encouraged Ervad Masani to write his scholarly book as a thumping rejoinder to Dr. Dhalla. With his scholastic, deep study of our religious texts, Phiroze Masani, Advocate High Court, Bombay, successfully refuted each and every argument of Dr. Dhalla on conversion and ornamented his book by giving  a list of 45 glaring inconsistencies of Dr. Dhalla spread in his book!

The next historical important step was the drafting of the definition of a PARSEE in the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936.  The Juddin champions were to thrust a definition accepting children of a Parsee father and non-Parsee mother. However, due to the efforts of Mr. Manekji Davar, Mr. Faredoon Dadachandji, Mr. Mancherji Khareghat and Mr. Homi Seervai, the attempts of the Juddin advocates failed miserably and the definition that ultimately found its way into the Act is “A Parsi means a Parsi Zoroastrian”.

Then came the chapter of Vansda Navjotes in 1942. A few Parsees in Vansda State had kept Adivasi mistresses and their progeny had multiplied.  One Mr. Faramji Bode and Mr. Burjorji Bharucha arranged to have ‘Navjotes’ of such progeny who were ‘children’ between the age of 7 and 70! There was an uproar in the community.  Jam-e-Jamshed took the lead.  The files of Jame for the year 1942-43-44 provide an excellent account of how sharply the Parsee community reacted to this nefarious Bode-Bharucha act. These files also show that the community did not make any difference between children of Parsee father by an alien wife and Parsee mother by alien husband.  In fact, the Vansda progeny were all offspring of Parsee fathers.

In 1945, some of the Vansda navjotees filed a suit in the Bombay High Court against the trustees of an Agiary, claiming that they were Parsees and were entitled to enter the Agiary.  They brought Dr. Dhalla, the Juddin champion as their expert and ‘powerful’ witness. However, in the cross-examination by counsel, Mr. Manekshah, Dr. Dhalla admitted that he himself would never perform such a Navjote because a large part of the Parsee community was against it!  Vansda Navjotee plaintiffs were promptly advised by their counsel, Mr. Setalvad to withdraw the case.

When this case was pending, the Parsi Panchayat had received a requisition signed by 24,000 Parsees voicing strong protest against the Vansda navjotes.

Again, on 16.3.1945, a Samast Anjuman Meeting was held openly condemning these Navjotes. All along, the stand of the community was: no mixing of blood whatsoever, no distinction between children of Parsee father by non-Parsee mother and of a Parsee mother by non-Parsee father.

The next step was an alleged declaration by 14 Dastoors in 1949, where one of the paragraphs stated that they had to accept the definition of a Parsee as laid down by the law.  This was yet another attempt to thrust Justice Davar’s obiter as law, intending to get the community to accept the children of Parsee fathers by non-Parsee mothers into the fold. Once again, the community reacted very sharply.  The two Head priests of Navsari and Udvada not only did not join this declaration of 14 Dastoors, but opposed it vehemently.  One of them, Dastoorji Mirza presided over a public meeting held on 9.10.1949 for recording the strong protest of the community. Here again the community confirmed that Justice Davar’s judgement did not lay that law and that no mixing of blood and genes should be allowed whether by a Parsee father or mother.

In 1963, one more such confirmation was asserted by the Parsee community.  A movement was launched by some Parsees to induce Parsi Panchayat to call a Samast Anjuman meeting to pay tributes to the late Burjorji Bharucha (of Vansda fame).  Such meetings are called only for those Parsees who had rendered exceptional service to the community.  A requisition was sent to the trustees of the Parsee Panchayat to call such a meeting for Mr. Bharucha. 

However, the Parsees had not forgotten the Vansda Navjotes done under his leadership. The late Mr. Jehangirji Chiniwalla and his PARSEE AVAZ launched a counter movement. Soon a counter requisition bearing thousands of signatures was sent to the Parsee Panchayat reminding them that calling such a meeting would tantamount to a ratification of the great misdeeds done by Bode-Bharucha and company. The trustees honoured the counter requisition.  No meeting was called for Mr. Bharucha. Once again, the community expressed its views in another public meeting held on 1.4.1970 under the leadership of Mr. Maneck Mistry.

It is, thus, clear that the community is against any kind of mixing of the Parsee blood and genes by any kind of Juddin marriage or Juddin navjote and it does not accept any distinction between the children of a Parsee father and non-Parsee mother and of a Parsee mother and non-Parsee father. There is no law that makes such a distinction. The community has adopted this consistent stand since Parsees came to India and has expressed the stand most emphatically and effectively whenever the occasion has arisen.

Our survival is in danger not because we do not accept Juddin marriage or Juddin "navjote"; it is in danger because a few of us desire to thrust such acceptance on the whole community.  The surest way of erasing a race from the surface of the earth is the import-export of blood and genes.

The above facts and figures have been taken from the writings and lectures of religious scholars - Vada Dasturji Kaikhushroo N. Dastoor Meherjirana and late Adi F. Doctor.

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