Rohinton Rivetna speaks: Inter-faith marriages are destroying our 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 community.

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 intensity).

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 AZA FEZANA JAME-JAMSHED MUMBAI SAMCHAR PARSIANA and all individuals 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 community".

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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