The Bane of Mixed Marriages

by Ervad Jal N. Birdy.

The main theme of a liberal's attack relates to my article in the FEZANA Journal of Summer, 1996. FEZANA invited several persons to write an article on their vision for the Zarathushti community in the next millennium and published a synopsis of my article in their Journal. I took the reader on an imaginary trip in a time machine 100 years from now and asked our community what they might expect to find at that time. I asked them:

- Will you recognize our FACES as belonging to Parsis or Iranis or even a mixture of the two?

- Will you find us still running our Associations or will you notice that we have become a minority in our own community and are being dictated to by outsiders.

- Will you see Zarathushti beliefs and practices still being followed or will you see our faith having become an amalgam of several different faiths, beliefs and practices? Will you see a single Mobed around?

- Will you find us to be like the Parsis who survived and prospered almost intact for 1300 years on the Indian sub-continent, or have our people suffered the same fate as earlier Zarathushti migrants to Europe, South India, China, etc., who disappeared without trace?

The liberal has picked up on the word FACES from the above and devoted almost his entire attack to it. I would like to put the matter in perspective by relating my own experience on this matter. My family had just arrived in Houston from London in 1980 and we were in the midst of a mild cultural shock. We did not know of any Parsis living in Houston at the time. Although we were very well treated by the local acquaintances, we missed the Parsi environment we were used to. One evening, while furniture shopping in Sears, we saw a couple who looked like Parsis. I mentioned it to my wife, who promptly went over to the couple and asked them point blank if they were Parsis. They turned out to be Sarosh and Guloo Maneckshaw. At once we were put at ease knowing there were Parsis living in Houston. The rest is history. So you see faces do matter in bonding with your community and hence my reference to them in the article.

Let me next deal with the question of inter-marrieds which the liberal has raised. Sociologists have always maintained that for any small community like ours to survive in a sea of people from different backgrounds, it must practice certain exclusive rules, preferably based on religion. The Parsis have proved this theorem admirably by surviving almost intact in India for 1300 years mainly by adhering to certain tough, exclusive, time tested rules devised by their forebears. The cardinal among these were rules against mixed-marriages and initiation of offsprings of such marriages into the fold, conversion of outsiders and certain unique and exclusive practices like wearing of the sudreh-kushti, maintaining exclusive fire-temples, holding exclusive gatherings for religious purposes, etc. And there were sanctions against those who broke these rules.

These rules were made for the preservation of our faith as well as our identity. They were not selective or racially discriminatory and we applied them to all non-Zarathushtis equally. History proves that we have lived harmoniously with all sections of the peoples in the Indian sub-continent to whom we owe so much and who have showered accolades on us for our contributions to our adopted homelands. We preserved these rules even when we ventured out to seek new opportunities in Aden, Africa, the Near East and the Far East. Now, having ventured further Westward to the land of the white man, certain *liberal* Zarathushtis and others are frantically trying to explore our scriptures to find how they can justify discarding our time tested rules on mixed-marriages to suit their own interests. Does this not sound like the racial discrimination that *traditional* Zarathushtis are often accused of?

Mixed marriages, in particular, have become the bane of our community for over three decades now. Unlike other larger communities, our microscopic community just does not have the mass needed to absorb such marriages. Granted, I have seen mixed marriages, where the non-Zarathushti spouse has more zeal in bringing up their children as Zarathushtis, than the Zarathushti spouse. But equally, I have seen mixed marriages where the children grow up confused and disoriented, owing to the different religious and social backgrounds of their parents. If such marriages are openly accepted by the community, their rate will accelerate and there will soon come a time when outside influences in our families and community gatherings will become so pronounced, that not only our identity but also our faith will become unrecognizable. It does not take a rocket scientist to arrive at this conclusion.

If you asked members of our community, including Mobeds, the overwhelming majority will agree that they prefer their children to marry within the community. Yet the community as a whole and their elected institutions are reluctant to publicly say or do anything to discourage mixed marriages. *But what can we do*, they will say, *times have changed!!* Nothing of the sort. This is what the liberal elements have brainwashed them into saying over the years. Every generation feels that the times they live in are different from that of their parents. What has changed, however, is the whole attitude towards the preservation of our faith and identity and the guts to speak up. If Mobeds, in particular, who are entrusted with safeguarding the well-being of the community do not speak up, WHO WILL?

For those Mobeds who are not afraid to speak their mind and take a stand against mixed marriages, there are not many sanctions left that they can resort to on this continent. The only one they can use is the one restricting inter-marrieds to religious gatherings. I do not know where the liberal has got his 30-pace rule for non-Zarathushti spouses to sit at religious gatherings, but that seems like a good one to me, since this usually means *outside-the-room* in most facilities, even in Texas where he resides. There is a growing number of Mobeds who are prepared to enforce this rule or decline from participating - in a nice way - having made their point. They apply this rule not only to the non-Zarathushti-half, but to the Zarathushti-half also, whether male or female. They see no difference.

The liberal has concluded his attack on me with a suggestion that he help me set up a meeting to *discuss* issues to achieve Zarathushtrian Harmony. Such a meeting was mooted last year by several prominent members of the community, to which I was invited. The meeting was canceled after it was pointed out that there was no room for compromise on these issues and that no amount of discussion will solve them. Either you accept mixed-marriages and conversions or you don*t. My view has not changed since then. I thank the liberal for his offer anyway.

So to those, like the liberal, who have chosen to break the unwritten rules of our community and who are continually trying to justify their action, we would say - We wish you and your family well, but *you cannot have your cake and eat it too*. Please do not think you can feed literal interpretations from our scriptures, as they suit you, to our community in the guise of scholarship. Our community is intelligent enough to recognize that many different interpretations have been ascribed to our ancient scriptures. Even the simple Yatha has over 30 different ones and the Gathas over forty five. However, if you wish to practice the Zarathushti religion as you think fit, this is a free country. You are free to start your own show and leave us in peace to practice our religion in our own way; a way that will continue to safeguard our faith as well as our identity. Thank you.

With kind regards,

Ervad Jal N. Birdy.

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