In surprise move, Parsi high priest named for minority panel

Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor  

Mumbai: In a surprise for the Parsi community, a high priest has been appointed to the National Commission for Minorities as the Zoroastrian representative. The appointment on Wednesday of Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, high priest of the oldest fire temple in Udvada, Gujarat and the youngest high priest at present, comes at time when liberal and orthodox Parsis are opposing the nomination of Dinshaw Tamboly for his liberal standpoint.

While the orthodox groups viewed Mr. Dastoor’s appointment as the failure of liberals lobbying for Mr. Tamboly, liberal Parsis celebrated the appointment as Mr. Dastoor is known to be “liberal, pragmatic and rational”.

Anahita Desai, CEO of the orthodox World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis (WAPIZ), said Mr. Dastoor is known to be liberal. “Mr. Tamboly is known as a reformist. Mr. Dastoor has been in sync with other high priests in voicing traditional views, as in the case of Cremate ni bungli and Desouza navjote,” Ms. Desai said, referring to cases of liberals demanding prayer hall facilities in Doongerwadi and a Parsi woman married to a Christian who wanted the navjote ceremony for her children.

She added that the government’s rejection of a known reformist is a triumph for traditionalists. “It shows that even the government recognised that most of the community is traditional. Most of us have been taken by surprise because a high priest has never been appointed to a political post. We sincerely hope he uses his position to preserve and protect our small community.”

Mr. Dastoor is known for his influential contacts in India and abroad. He is also known to be very close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the latter was Gujarat Chief Minister. Mr. Dastoor had upset community members in 2015 by supporting the Iranshah Udvada Utsav that lent a celebratory look to the Parsi holy town, with traditionalists feeling it was not a place for revelry.

Jehangir Patel, editor of community magazine Parsiana, said Mr. Dastoor’s appointment is reasonable. “He is balanced and not very critical,” Mr. Patel said. According to him, the community was mostly unaware of appointments to the NCM. “It’s for the first time that controversies erupted, mainly because Mr. Tamboly’s name came up.”

Apart from his liberal stand, Mr. Tamboly is also the man behind the Worli prayer hall for Parsis who choose cremation or burial for disposing of the dead, instead of the traditional practice of leaving the body in the Tower of Silence. He had received the support of Parsi Zoroastrians across the world, who wrote letters favouring him. Even the chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, Yazdi Desai, recommended Mr. Tamboly in January 2017. He, however, withdrew it earlier this month.

“Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor’s appointment is in the right direction. We are very happy about it,” said Vispy Wadia, co-founder, Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism, adding the high priest has taken a stand on allowing Parsi women who have married outside the faith and their children to enter the fire temples. “He is extremely progressive,” said Mr. Wadia. However, some community members say Mr. Dastoor’s liberal stands have been only expressed in private while he has maintained his traditional views in public.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 4:47:43 AM |

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