Apocalypse Now?

Karl K. Sahukar

The Book of Jamaspi, or the Jamasp Namak talks of certain prognostications and signs, which will appear in the time to come during the last millennium. Some of those relevant ones in today’s day scenario are as follows:

The circumstances surrounding the recent controversies seem to give credence to these predictions. We see the breach of faith by our own Zoroastrian brethren. We know of the power brokers of today who would sell their own religion for money, the misinformed persons questioning the faith and thereby the very priests who have preserved the religion. We also have in our midst the proverbial Trojan Horses - respectable persons and Organisations, who ‘in spite of their respectful position, practice too much of untruthfulness, injustice and false evidence’.

The recent article "Dokhmanashini - System and the Alternatives" by Rustom S. Gae, Chairman of The WZO Trust for Women and Children, which appeared in the 29th October issue of Jam-e-Jamshed is a case in point of misinformed persons causing great harm to the good religion of Zarathushtra. The religion, which has survived through centuries despite persecution and trials due to the perseverance of its fine people, stands to be annihilated due to the ignorance and breach of faith of those in its own fold.

Some of Mr. Gae’s primary reasons for replacement of the system are lack of adequate greenery, environmental pollution caused by decomposed dead bodies, health hazards affecting public health, write-ups in the print media, etc. Perhaps Mr. Gae does not know that steps are being taken by the Trustees of the Bombay Parsee Panchayet (BPP) to increase the foliage in the Doongerwadi area. Besides providing the requisite green cover, it would also help in increasing the nesting area of the vultures. As for the environmental pollution due to the decomposing bodies, the odour problem has more or less been taken care of by the herbal powder, which is being effectively used both at Doongerwadi and at the Pune Dokhmas. The problem will be further reduced once the use of ozone gas is fully implemented.

This brings us to the next bogey regarding the Dokhmas now being health hazards affecting public health. It is logical that the first people to be affected would be the Narsessalars who daily walk in and out of the Dokhmas. So far none of us have heard of any of them falling down like flies due to the "environmental hazard". Let us base our arguments on facts and not on fertile imagination. While it is virtuous to have foresight, let us not become paranoid regarding the write-ups in the print media and the Government exercising statutory powers to inspect the Dokhmas.

The public interest litigation against the Trustees seems likely to be a "private interest litigation". Vested interests intend to create a major hype, with the sole aim of bringing in the crematoria, and later, possibly selling off the lands. A crematorium is a crematorium, be it solar, electric or otherwise. The object of a crematorium is to burn the dead body. The source of its power may be different, but the end result is the same. Intense heat would ignite the bodies and burn it. It would also be incorrect to state that the solar crematorium will not involve any environmental hazards. One could refer to the fine articles written by Noshir Dadrawala and printed in the Jame earlier, enumerating the pollution caused by crematoriums world-wide.

Mr. Gae rightly mentions the impracticality of the experimental solar concentrator system, as it is doomed to failure during the monsoons. The high temperatures at other times when it could function will ensure that not a single bird, be it a kite, crow or vulture would enter the Dokhmas due to the intense heat which the concentrator would generate. It would be a sure-fire way to get rid of whatever few birds that remain in the Doongerwadi vicinity. Once the birds are gone, the bodies would continue to lie in the Dokhmas in a dried / mummified state. The only way to then dispose off these mummified half-baked bodies would be to cremate them. Bingo! The solar concentrator has failed - let’s bring in the crematorium! An excellent way to bring in the crematoria through the back door!

It would do well to learn that unless one tries, one couldn’t succeed. Mr. Gae’s remark "It would, therefore, be futile to expect any Government in its wisdom and foresight granting licence for the captive breeding of the vultures" seems outdated in today’s circumstances. Now that the in-principle go ahead has been received from the Addl. I.G. of Forests for the building of an aviary at the Doongerwadi complex, the ball is back in the court of the BPP Trustees to move matters as efficiently as the government authorities themselves did! Though further sanctions are required, will the Trustees move ahead or stall for more time, remains to be seen. It could be quite likely that the multiplicity of interests and offices held by some of the Trustees of the BPP themselves, could be a deterrent to go ahead with this project. The objectives of The World Zoroastrian Organisation may not match those of the local Bombay Parsee Panchayat. If one wears many hats, one has to ensure they all fit too!

While our High Priests are truly amongst the most educated and intelligent Dasturs in the country, one would expect a little more clarity of thought from them. Supporting one system to strengthen the Dokhmas on one day, and the other system on the next, only adds to the confusion in the minds of the laity. Our High Priests, whose prime responsibility is towards safeguarding the ancient traditions and rituals of the religion, should suggest a doctrinally acceptable system which can be efficiently implemented, and thus put an end to this gnawing problem.

In a lighter vein, if the solar concentrator system is implemented along with the aviary, variety will no longer be the spice of life. Zoroastrians will have it even in death! They will be able to opt for their own choice of disposal – cooked or eaten raw! We may even find them selecting their "preferred system" in their last will and testaments!

Being an athornan, Mr. Gae should know that a dilution in the rituals and customs lead to a dilution of the religion itself. We have seen this happening in Iran and in Delhi, and there is no reason why this will not happen here. He should also know that matters of religion cannot be decided by mere newspaper votes. The traditions and practices developed over hundreds of years cannot be discarded or changed willy-nilly to suit individual and organisational preferences. But then perhaps, that in itself is the objective of the organisation that he represents. Though the WZO has done commendable work in the field charity, one cannot ignore the fact that it is yet to make its stand clear as to whether they support the inclusion of Ali Akbar Jaffarey and uphold the system of Dokhmenishini.

The prophecies mentioned in the Jamaspi seem to ring true. The damaging article "Marrying Out, Staying In", penned by a person of Mr. Gae’s social standing, in the September issue of Parsiana, is nothing but a direct encouragement to our youngsters to marry out. Is this what the WZO wish to encourage?

By suggesting changes in rituals and ancient traditions, handed down since the time of Zarathushtra, we would only be hurting ourselves. It is unfortunate that instead of persevering and solving the problems at hand, we wish to adopt a defeatist attitude and discard it completely. The end result is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Our forefathers, when they landed upon the shores of India, could have chosen the easy way out - cremation - as that is what the Hindus practised. But they did not. Instead they chose the difficult path of building and consecrating the Dokhmas. It is infinitely more difficult to set up a system from scratch than to preserve it. If the crematoria is to be set up at Doongerwadi, the valiant deeds of our priests who have preserved our religion through thousands of years will be washed away. The memories of our Zoroastrian martyrs will fade into oblivion and their sacrifices will be in vain.

Our next generations, if they survive, would then have to wait. Wait to live... Wait to die.... Wait for an absolution, which would never come!

- Karl K. Sahukar

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