The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mixed marriage ban leaves Parsis on tenterhooks

Mumbai, March 28: The seven Parsi high priests, who recently passed a resolution banning mixed marriages, claim it is a step taken by a beleaguered community to save itself.

However, those on the receiving end say this new religious rigidity will backfire, putting more pressure on a community that has been struggling for survival.

With the new order on its way to getting some sort of a social sanction, Feroz Kama is now scared that he will be excommunicated if he marries Navneet, a Punjabi from Delhi.

Rustom Mistree — a child of a mixed Parsi marriage — is worried he will be barred from attending the last rites of his mother.

The priests, in order to “save” the community, have declared that mixed marriages will not be solemnised — they have even warned other priests against flouting the diktat — and there will not be any Navjote, an initiation ceremony, for children born of such “unlawful unions”.

The new resolution has, in effect, declared Parsi children from mixed marriages outcastes, barring them from entering the fire temple or performing Zoroastrian rituals.

The resolution was made earlier this month and carried prominently in Jam-e-Jamshed, a Parsi newspaper, four days ago.

The response to this from a community at pains to find a middle path between extinction and the pulls of modernity has wavered from relief to shock.

“This is very important to save our culture and tradition,” said Firoze Kotwal, one of the priests who made the decision. “We have to take such a drastic step to preserve our people and their identity. They will disappear otherwise.”

Jamshed Jehangir echoes the religious sentiment. “What is wrong in this' This is something that will benefit our progeny. I don’t think it should be debated so much because it is one of the seven tenets of the Zoroastrian scripture.”

Others supporting the decision say that every third Parsi marries outside the community and if this goes on, they are headed for doom. There are only 75,000 Parsis left worldwide. Out of this meagre figure, 50,000 live in Mumbai. The Parsis migrated from Iran about 1,000 years ago to escape religious persecution. Three groups went to three different countries.

While the groups that went to Germany and China got merged with the majority culture and disappeared, only the ones who fled to India have been able to retain their identity.

But some among the “survivors” are worried. Jehangir Patel, editor of the community magazine, Parsiana, says: “It will only divide the community further.”

Others like Parizaad Dastur question the very legality of the diktat. “We have to question this decision,” she said.

“How can you say such things in the 21st century. Is this any way to retain the Parsi identity'”

The anxiety is evident, especially among the youth.

“In that case, what happens to us if we marry someone we love who happens to be a non-Parsi'” asks Mistree, adding that the new laws are “drastic and divisive”.

“Yes, what happens to us and our children'” asks Kama.

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