Historic Resolution Creates Flutter In Reformist Dove Cotes at Poona

by Noshir H. Dadrawalla

The Jam-e-Jamshed in its Weekly edition of December 15,2002 had carried an exclusive report on the Historic Resolution passed by the Mobeds of Poona. One Commodore L. S. Mehta. I.N. (Retd.) has thought it fit to comment on the same in the ‘Parsi Tari Arsi’ column of the Bombay Samachar (February 16, 2003).

The retired commodore has court-martialed me (a humble civilian) as being “guilty of half truths”, and “un-researched statements”. He states with a degree of certainty that the meeting “did not just happen. “ He assumes, “They (the mobeds of Poona) had to be goaded by a bigger stronger moving force to arrange this meeting”. He further questions, “How is that Mr. Dadrawala was singled out from amongst all Parsees of Bombay to be present at this historic meeting?”

May I inform the retired commodore that in more than two decades of writing for Jam-e-Jamshed and other publications, I have never had to resort to half-truths or write without proper research. The historic meeting was exclusively and entirely the initiative of the mobeds of Poona. As to why I was “singled out among all Parsees of Bombay” to be present at the meeting the answer quite simply is, “because I was invited”.

The commodore then proceeds with the usual, hackneyed, stereotype argument on why some Parsees in Poona are opting for alternate systems for the disposal of the dead. He claims that he had himself entered the dokhma in Poona. He does not state whether he had done so surreptitiously or with the permission of the trustees of the Punchayet. But that is hardly the issue. What business had he to enter the dokhma, which is a restricted area? As a man who has served the Indian Navy he should know that he has committed moral, legal and religious trespass. And if he committed this trespass with the permission of the trustees then they are equally guilty. He also enumerates the number of bodies he saw in “various stages of rotting and smelling to glory “. We wonder what else he was expecting to see?

There is a private burial ground in Poona and a very respected Parsi lady from Poona has very recently been laid to rest there. Would the commodore dare to exhume her grave and find out what stage of rot and stink that body is in at the moment?

The commodore feels that a crematorium “is the best, quickest, cheapest and most hygienic way of disposing the dead with dignity”. The scientific fact is that nothing can ever be truly disposed off or thrown into a magical hole called ‘away’ or otherwise made to disappear.

In fact the term “disposal” is in itself a myth. Since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, even in the state-of-the-art incinerator or crematorium, the corpse is converted to ash and air emissions.

In a crematorium the corpse is not magically made to disappear. It is simply reduced to ash and atmospheric emissions, both of which are potentially hazardous. Dioxin and Furans are among the most toxic man-made compounds and the combustion process in all incinerators (including electric crematoriums) produces them.

Furans are a family of chemicals that closely resemble dioxin and can cause health damage similar to dioxin. Dioxin is an extremely potent toxic substance that produces a remarkable variety of adverse effects in humans and animals even in extremely low doses. Dioxin is persistent in the environment and accumulates in magnified concentrations as it moves up the food chain, concentrating in fat, notably in breast milk. Dioxin can cause cancer and acts as an endocrine disrupter with adverse effects on reproduction, development and the immune system.

Incinerators like all combustion devices, also emit considerable quantities of carbon dioxide, which although not toxic, is considered one of the major contributors to global climatic changes.

No pollution control device can eliminate dioxin and other emissions completely. Scrubbers designed to filter out particulate matter cools the exhaust gas to the ideal range for dioxin formation.

On the other hand even if bodies are left exposed to the rays of the sun for weeks or months they pose no health or environmental hazard, a fact upheld by forensic experts and the World Health Organization (WHO).

A solar concentrator has also been installed at one of the dokhmas in Poona and is working quite satisfactorily.

The commodore states that various “Vada Dasturs all over India have to date sanctified navjotes of children born of Parsee male to non-parsee female”. He questions, “Are Mr. Dadrawala and these mobeds now challenging that authority?” I would like to question the commodore as to when and where the Vada Dasturs have sanctified such navjotes? I would go a step further and ask a counter question, have any of the present Vada Dasturjis, including Sardar Dastur Hormazdiar (High Priest of Poona, Deccan and Malva) ever performed such navjotes?

The commodore then proceeds to display his “research” skills. He states, “ I would like to know researched facts as to how many Zoroastrians left Persia to sail to India and reached India alive. Out of the very small number how did the Parsee Kom reach the figure of about 2 lakhs (?) within a few decades?” There is a saying, “better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt”. We wonder where the commodore got the figure of 2 lakhs? And where did he discover that our numbers multiplied to this imaginary number in two decades? Historians believe that the Parsis came to India somewhere around the ninth century A.D. and according to census of India figures the Parsi population in India reached an all-time high of 1,14,890 in 1941. Even the census figures for 1881 indicate that Parsis as a community in India numbered only 85,397 souls. So much for “researched facts”!

The commodore takes more flights of fantasy by insinuating that the Parsi population in India grew only because of inter-marriages with the local Gujaratis or by having Gujarati concubines. This argument, to say the least, is a figment of the commodore’s fertile imagination. However, on this issue, we would like the eminent pathologist, Dr. P.K. Antia, to take over. In his paper, ‘Parsis and Blood Diseases’ published in the Diamond Jubilee Volume of the B.D. Petit Parsi General Hospital, he writes:

“It is wrong to assume as many do, that after landing in India, Zoroastrians had to marry with the local Indian population and there was hybridization of immigrant Zoroastrians. Iranian Zoroastrians left Persia to save their sacred fire and it is not plausible that they left their women fold to the mercy of the Arabic invaders. They brought their women folk and inbreeding continued in India with the same religious zest that made them leave their motherland, to protect their religion. Besides, the hospitable Hindus had a parochial caste system, which would not allow inter-marriages even in their sub-castes, let alone outside racial or ethnic groups.

“The immigrant Zoroastrians, true and faithful to their word, never dared alienate the feelings of their hospitable rulers. Thus, exceptions apart, the immigrant Zoroastrians did not marry outside their community. Hence the process of hybridization of racial mixing did not occur in Parsis. After the initial stage of seven centuries of struggling, settling and giving a heavy toll of life against new environmental conditions, Zoroastrians breeding amongst themselves, settled in their new home. This natural selection without hybridization has increased certain genetic traits manifested by proclivity to certain disease patterns. Interbreeding and mixing with other races would have led to dilution of these traits.”

The retired commodore also dabbles in genetics and asserts that insanity amongst Parsees is the highest and this is because of “marrying amongst a small select group”. Apparently the commodore cannot make up his mind. On one hand he says that our population in India grew because we married Gujaratis and now he argues that there is high insanity because of marrying among a small select group. I will reserve my comments regarding insanity amongst Parsees. But I can certainly see insanity in the commodore’s argument.

He states, “By a few not marrying out of the community no fresh blood would be brought into the kom and the Parsees will end up in a few decades not only extinct but even before reaching that stage, a community of the insane, the imbeciles and the half wits”. What the commodore fails to realize is the fact that all the great pioneering Parsis of yore were full-blooded Parsis. It did not require any so-called “fresh blood” to produce a Jamsetji Tata or a Jamsetji Jejeebhoy or a Dadabhoy Naoroji. We could well turn the argument around and say that the Parsee Kom has lost quite a bit of its spirit (Parseepanu) thanks to attempts in bringing so called “fresh blood” into the community.

The retired Commodore criticizes mobeds who drink and use abusive language. I join him in criticizing those who do. But where I differ with the Commodore is in his attempt to tar all mobedsahebs with the same brush.

The retired Commodore praises the contribution of the Godrej, Tata, Wadia and other families. I too join him in this exercise. He adds, “All these families have some member married outside the community……………..so why enjoy of their bounty?” The answer is quite simple. The founders of these trusts who were mostly devout Parsi Zoroastrians (it’s the later generations who intermarried) left these bequests in trust for the exclusive benefit of the Parsi community and therefore “their bounty” is enjoyed as of right and righteous justification. What right has the Commodore (who is himself intermarried) to emotionally blackmail the Parsi community?

The retired Commodore puts the cherry on the argument is his statement, “The essence of true Zoroastrianism is the living and not the rituals”. Well, if that is the case, why is our retired Commodore so upset with the resolution? If rituals are not the true essence of the religion, why is he so upset about the mobedsahebs not performing the after-death rituals for those who choose to be cremated or buried where dokhmas exist?

The retired Commodore has also advised this writer and the mobedsahebs to read the writings of Late Dastur Dr. Dhalla. Well at least I have. In turn, I would suggest that the retired Commodore also read the response to some of Dr. Dhalla’s writings given by that redoubtable Avesta Pahlavi scholar Ervad Pheroze Masani and the support given to the latter by none other than Justice Sir Dinshaw Davar. Commodore saheb, there is more to Parsi Zoroastrianism than what one can find in the works of scholars like Dr. Dhalla. Dr. Dhalla was greatly influenced by the erroneous thinking of his western mentors at Columbia University. He criticized rites and rituals during his lifetime but insisted that all the after-death rites and ceremonies should be performed where he and his wife were concerned. He advocated conversion but admitted in a court of law that he himself would never perform such a navjote. The Late Dastur Dhalla has departed to the other world and it would not be fair to say anything further.

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