ABOUT three months ago, 83-year-old Neville Wadia under went a traditional Parsi ceremony called “Navjote”. This scared Parsi ritual, which was a low-key affair, was held at his son Nusli Wadia’s (Bombay Dyeing chief) residence.
By itself, there is nothing controversial about a Parsi having his Navjote ceremony performed. However, Neville Wadia’s ceremony has the entire Parsi community in turmoil.
Can Neville Wadia be considered a Parsi Zoroastrian? Is his Navjote valid? These are some of the questions that are uppermost in every Parsi mind. Ranged against each other in this battle is a virtual who’s who of the Parsi Community: editors, industrialists, Supreme Court judges, academics.
“I feel sick and disgusted by the entire controversy. I am sorry to say that if there is any community that has the maximum number of fools in India then it is the Parsi community,” says noted jurist Nani Palkhivala.
“Manu Parsis are pigheaded bigots who are so myopic that they cannot see beyond a point,” says S R Vakil a leading Supreme Court advocate and former trustee of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat (BPP).
“Let them say what they want to Neville Wadia’s Navjote is invalid according to the Parsi scriptures ‘Venidad’. Anyway, why does Neville Wadia to become a Parsi Zoroastrian in his twilight years when he was all along a Christian?” asks Noshir Dadrawala, editor of Deen Parast a Parsi newspaper.
As accusations and counter accusations fly, Neville Wadia’s Navjote ceremony has the potential to change the Parsi community forever and could prove to be a watershed in the history of the community. Loosely, the Navjote ceremony is the equivalent of the Hindu sacred thread (Janoi) ceremony that is done when boys are young. Navjote too is a pre-puberty ceremony.
Wadia of course is an octogenarian, born of a Parsi father who converted to Christianity. Neville Wadia’s mother was also a Christian. His decision to under go the Navjote ceremony and become Parsi Zoroastrian at such a late stage in his life by itself is not the main issue. It is his conversion to Zoroastrian religion and being admitted into the fold as a Parsi Zoroastrian.
Says Jehan Daruwalla, editor, Bombay Samachar a liberal in his views: “Irrespective of age, a man has the right to change his mind. What the orthodox fear is that once Wadia’s Navjote is approved. Parsi females who have married outside the community too will demand that their offspring be admitted into the Parsi fold”.
Last year, the Parsi Community was rocked by a controversy involving the Uthana ceremony of JRD Tata. JRD too was born of a Parsi father and non-Parsi mother. The BPP was censured by many Parsis for permitting the uthana ceremony in the Tower of Silence.
The Wadias, like JRD, enjoy tremendous clout. In the Parsi Community, they are known for their charity. They have created large housing colonies for those Parsis who cannot afford to buy houses at market rates. Wadia’s navjote has also revealed a darker side of the Parsi community hitherto known to be a genial people.
“Acid attacks, murder threats, phone threats, hate mail.
Nothing has been left unturned to change the minds of those who have spoken for the liberalization of his community”, says Nani Palkhivala.
Wadia’s Navjote ceremony was “blessed” by five high priests while two opposed it. Neville Wadia wrote to the BPP enclosing the opinion of the high priests. Three and half months later, the trustees of the BPP are still debating the Navjote. “It is on the agenda and we are going to take up the matter soon,” says Jamshed Guzder, Chairman, and BPP.
Though the BPP technically has no right over religious matters, its approval of Wadia’s Navjote may act as a seal of approval.
As days go by the Parsi community dwindles rapidly. Deaths out number births by almost five to one. Incidence of childlessness too is high. There are barely 60,000 Parsis left in India and about 2, 00,000 in Europe and the US. Children of Parsi females married to non-Parsis are not regarded as Parsi Zoroastrians. On the other hand, children of Parsi males married to non-Parsi females may be accepted as Parsi Zoroastrian. This proposition too has been challenged as evident in Neville Wadia’s case.
By Ketan Tanna