Kem, dikra?

Continuing from this little thread over at J's. This is a longish post.

If you're a metro-Indian (not merely urban, but metro - do pay attention), especially on the western cost, chances are that you might have met a bawa. Or, rarer still, an Iroon. The fading, but still proud (yet not prideful), remnants of Zoroastrianism. If you haven't, go out now and hunt one down - chances are you won't regret it.

But even if you've not met one, you'll have seen one - or at least, a caricature of one - in some little 'comic' interlude in a Hindi film. Not that anybody really wanders around in that white dress costume (the dagli, which is only worn on very formal occasions, rather like a tuxedo), or in that odd-shaped black hat. But these are Hindi films, after all - except perhaps the carrom-mania that 'Puppah!' exhibits in Munnabhai. That's certainly true.

Anyways, this is about an interesting recent development, which curiously, is linked to the WTC attacks.

Now, sometime in the 7th century, the Arab tribes attacked and toppled the last of the Persian kings. And as with any new religion, the Zoroastrians living there were asked to join the new gang, or if not, would they mind attacking this shiny sword with their nice long necks? Strangely enough, a lot of people were allergic to the touch of cold metal on their carotid artery, and decided to run, Forrest, ruuuuun! However, these being the days before planes, trains, and heck, even automobiles, a lot of people couldn't get far. Besides, travelling through all those deserts and mountains ain't much fun. So, a lot of people did join the ranks of the new club, while a few managed to reach strange shores where in a few centuries, they'd end up setting up steel plants and dingy cafes and be almost solely responsible for the perpetuation of the Birdie Dance.

Now, the Zoroastrians who settled in India are called Parsis, and follow a patrilineal religion. So all females marrying a non-Zoroastrian are ex-communicated, as are their kids. ( NonParsi-marrying-men, however, are welcome, and their children are accepted into the fold). Oh, and they don't let people convert to the religion.

Which, coupled with the low marriage ratio, the late average age at which marriages do take place, and the low ratio of children per marriage (all linked to the community being one of the most educated, gender-equal, and financially well-off ones in India) mean that numbers have been falling for decades. The 2001 census said there were just 69,301 of them in India. Yes, large numbers have moved to the UK, US, Canada, and Australia, but global figures are estimated at just around 120,000 to 140,00.

So that was background.

Now the interesting development is that post-WTC, encouraged by the growing pressure from the international community to promote 'religious tolerance' (also perhaps aided by Internet growth, and the collapse of the Soviet Union), a whole bunch of people in central Asia, which used to be part of the Persian empire, are now beginning to re-identify themselves as Zoroastrian.

And not chindi numbers - we're talking about 2.5 to 3 million people here*. That changes a lot of perspective.

Now, the orthodox Parsis do not accept them, saying (perhaps with some justification) that they've lost touch of the customs, rituals, beliefs, and only have some vague thread linking them to the religion. But the Z's say they had always kept to the faith, but just hid it deeply, or mutated it so as not to be persecuted, like so many other ethnic groups did in the USSR. And the Parsis retort with, if it was mutated, it's not the true religion, and don't you know, we don't accept converts.

The really interesting thing is the whole stand-off is more about ethnicity, rather than religion. The non-conversion bit is only adhered to by the Parsis, as part of the pact they signed with the Hindu king who first gave them sanctuary in Gujarat. They don't really need to keep to it now, but a promise is a vow is an oath, and all that. The religion per se does not mention conversion, let alone restrict it, because how else could the religion have grown in the first place?

So, technically, there could be Zoroastrians, and there could be Parsi Zoroastrians.

But....since the Parsis are the accepted followers and adherents of the religion, and all the priests and holy places are managed by orthodox Parsi organisations - without their approval nobody can be accepted legally accepted as a Zoroastrian. Talk about market monopoly, huh?

And so it stands - a few million people want to be accepted into a religion that's dying out, and whose numbers would jump 20-fold with their inclusion, but they're not being accepted. How very weird. And predictable.

Further reading .

* This hasn't been confirmed by any official sources yet, but apparently progress is underway.


Revealed said...

Hmm. Wait, wait. Let me get this right. We're talking humans, no? The most evolved species? The ones who suffer from intelligent design? Who'd have thought it!

j. said...

i'm all for it. it's the only way berry pulao will survive into the next generation. amen.

??! said...

just proves my point further.

you and berry pulao. what about mawa cakes, Shrewsbury biscuits, zardalu-ma-gosht, sali-boti, and akoori on toast?

mad said...

fascinating! thanks for the extra info!

seems somewhat bizarre, but then i live in a place where one of the churches can schism over whether gardening on a Sunday is a sin.... who knows!