Issues of Identity and their Interaction With Other Communities
Sociology emphasizes a particular approach to the study of ethnic or religious communities, their identity and self-consciousness, their relationships with other groups within the society and patterns of their culture and behavioral system. It has, as a discipline, a very significant role in the study of social groups, their mode of life, influencing factors in their culture and social activities, particular norms and rules, atmosphere of relations with and their position among other groups of society.
In the time of globalization and great developments in communication where the world communities get closer and closer to each other, we need to know more and more about small and less known communities. In this context Sociology serves as the best instrument for spreading knowledge and awareness about various ethnic and religious groups, which are less popular for a large number of people who are interested in the variety of world's cultures and communities, and many scientific and educational institutions as well may refer to such works in their study, research and for other scientific purposes.
Who are The Parsees?
The Parsees are the followers of Zarathushtra, the monotheist prophet of Old Iran, which left their homes due to Islamic persecution, about a little more than thousand years ago and settled in Gujarat (India). They were accepted by the king of that time in that place, named Jadi Rana, who "not too keen on allowing foreign refugees to settle in his tiny kingdom, sent a bowl full of milk to the foreigners, signifying that the land was full and could support no more. Understanding Jadi Rana's ploy, the leader of the refugees added a pinch of sugar to the bowl, which did not overflow. Jadi Rana understood this astute gesture of sweetening the milk and the message behind it, and graciously allowed the Parsees to stay. Since then, legend has it, that they have added sweetness to the local life without being a burden."
The Parsees despite their small number contributed their extraordinary genius in every walk of life and assimilated with a quiet dignity into India's history and culture. Starting with business and industry, through law and literature, including the armed forces, and spanning the arts, music and nuclear science, Parsees always gave more than they took from their adopted land.
The largest number of Parsees lives in Mumbai, while they can be seen in most of the larger Indian cities as well. Parsees in twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad are basically concentrated in certain Parsee colonies and their Anjuman (Association) or the organizational body of the community is located in Mahatma Gandhi road in Secunderabad. Traditionally, Hyderabadi Parsees were under Nizam’s influence and this, to some extent, makes them different from their compatriots in other locations, although there is a large number of Parsees who came to the twin cities in post-Nizam period, that’s after independence and more recently.
It’s regrettable that in modern times with so much progress in information technology and advancement of media, easier accessibility to so much literature and resources on various subjects a very few people know something about Zoroastrism as a faith which once had a great influence upon the major religions of the modern world, and about those who still follow and preserve it despite harshnesses of the history and cruelties of times, who are called Parsees.
The Parsees, a small community with greater skills, who have fled their motherland and settled in Gujarat of India around thousand years before, subsequently have spread all over India and today even all over the world. But still they have always been very conscious and preserved their religion and customs, which are grounded on three Zarathushtra’s doctrines of “Good thoughts, Good words and Good deeds”.
How Parsees lived for last thousand years and how they contributed in the bringing development to India or India to development, it’s the matter of their honesty and pride as usually mentioned by many Parsis themselves. But as a sociologist I would enquire more into positive ways of reasoning to establish what was/is the actual reason behind their progress and what was that made them developed so much and started to support their countrymen, being proud of being Indian.
The first response that I got from a Parsee man whom I explained that my research was about the Parsee identity was this “We are first Indians and then Parsis, this is our identity”.
Why was I searching for the issue of identity of Parsees is because of various confusions made by some insider and outsiders of the Parsee community, especially those identified as Traditionalists who mixed up the religion with ethnic identity. Actually many times I have encountered even with some academic works about religions where the name of “Parsi” was mentioned as a particular religion and not as a community. Sometimes such terms like “Parsism” or “Parsisism” or “Parsi religion” are wrongly used to refer to Zoroastrian religion (as named after the prophet Zarathushtra), which is followed by the Parsis, although there is no such thing as ‘Parsism’ as such. Parsee is the name of the community of people who follow Zarathushtra’s teachings. They fled their country in order to preserve religion.
I see here the confusions over identity. These people were biased by the fact that they could not distinguish religion as an ideological body from the race or ethnic group as a physical body of a community. There are a lot of works done by mostly Parsee intellectuals themselves and some western anthropologists and travelers or those who served in British administrations. Some of these works describe Parsees as being too religious and tied with the ancient cult of fire-worshippers.
Above all, there were recently alarming sounds that the number of Parsees was sharply in decline and the community was in the door of death. There were some projects done through UNESCO on preservation of Parsee heritage and I was aware of it.
From other side as a Zoroastrian from another country I was too much curious about the life and behavior of Parsees to expand my knowledge and share it with my compatriots in my return to my country. There is a strong attraction towards Zoroastrian faith in the countries known formerly as “inside the fortress”. Almost in many central cities of former Soviet republics now you can find a Zoroastrian center, a center studying about the ancient Iranian culture and even many such intellectuals went forward to join the Zoroastrian community. While there is a two-fold reaction from the Parsee elites to those who have been initiated by various mobeds from Iran and other countries, it would be very beneficial to investigate the ground realities inside the Parsee community and distinguish the views of the masses from the superficial influences of few so-called traditionalists who reject to spread the Zoroastrian knowledge.
Keeping all this in mind I started to do a project on the identity of the Parsees and its inter-influence with other groups. My aim was really to separate religion from the natural identity of the group and my enquiry was into how and to what extent the Parsee masses are conscious about their religious and ethnic identities separately and to what extent they can differentiate the two from each other.
The Parsees of the twin cities as being a part of Nizam's rule were influenced by Nizam's culture and may have distinct features and characteristics from other Parsees all over India. This definitely speaks about cultural heterogeneity of the Community and it is very significant to make out what are the particular characteristics in the culture and life of the Parsis in Hyderabad, which makes them distinct from other communities. At the same time, study of how the community interacts with other religious or ethnic groups, its contribution in the development of the twin cities, to what extent they preserved their identity and identical culture, how aware they are of their history, how do they feel among other groups, their way of life, norms and rules and beliefs governing their lives, the role of religion in their social activities, ritual and ceremonies performed by them etc. is of great importance as in the study of group identities in India as in the whole globe, where they represent a glorious ancient civilization which had once upon a time a great influence all over the world. From other hand it would be a step forward in the new study of various communities living in and around Hyderabad by the University of Hyderabad which would probably take greater part in the future in the bringing about awareness among large number of people who may have less knowledge of such small and distinct communities, their identity, culture and way of life.
a) Description of the field
As it was mentioned above the Parsees are scattered all over the world and they do not have a particular geographical destination. In twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad also they are spread in various districts and locations which makes difficult to fix a particular destination of them. I have basically taken as my field of research the Parsee Anjuman (Association) of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, which is located in Mahatma Gandhi road, Secunderabad and certain colonies called “baughs” where numerous Parsee families live together.
There is a small Parsee colony comprised of about fifty families in 125 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Secunderabad, just opposite to Cherma’s shops and near the Paradise circles. They have their association named ‘The Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman of Secunderabad and Hyderabad (PZASH)’ and there is a fire temple called Dar-e-Meher – a House of Love. Khan Bahadur Seth Edulji Sohrabji Chenai founded this Dar-e-Meher in 1920. Those times he was reportedly a very influential person in Nizam’s government.
Another Fire Temple is located in 137, Prenderghast Road, Secunderabad, which was founded in 1847 by Seth Viccaji and Seth Pestonji Meherji. Just behind this fire temple there is a Parsee Dharamshala established by a lady Bai Pirojbai Edulji Chenai in 1889, which is located in 137 Prenderghast Road, Paradise Circle, Secunderabad where some times some Parsees who come from another cities and locations are accommodated here in this Dharamshalla for a week or more. Another location is the Zoroastrian Club located in Sardar Patel road close to Hyderabad tourist office. These are all located in one destination that’s around the Paradise circles in Secunderabad.
I have conducted some more basic interviews in another colony of Parsees with their fire temple, which is located in Tilak Road, Hyderabad city, just near to Abids. Bai Maneckbai Nusservanji Chinoy founded the fire temple of this colony in 1904.
Apart from all these, I also went to one of my key informants’ house where most of Parsees used to gather on occasional basis.
Though all these locations chosen as the main field of my research were significant, the Dar-e Meher of Mahatma Gandhi road where people most often visit for praying and worship, gathering in certain occasions, celebrations and rituals in Anjuman hall or around, made it easy for me to get in contact with most of the Parsee population living in Twin Cities. Usually the heads of the Parsee Anjuman also sit here in Mahatma Gandhi Road colony in Secunderabad. In addition, visiting some Parsee families and interviewing with them, observation of their lives, acts and behaviors have had a very significant contribution to the research.
b) Profiles of the respondents
Age: Although I have chosen people of various age groups from 12 to 60 years old people who could be observed and were capable of giving any information, the situation realities and ground opportunities required me to be flexible with my principle. The realities of the filed are different from theoretical perspective and sometimes we need to take them into account. So due to shortage in time and opportunities I could not take all age groups in equal and balanced number. But anyway I tried to the best of my ability to find out people of various age groups and take their views into account. So basically they were of ages between thirty and fifty and a few informants below thirty and some children.
Gender: Both male and female individuals were taken into account although I did not balance the proportionate of genders. But actually I encountered more with women’s active presence.
Economic background: My informants were primarily middle class individuals of various backgrounds. Most of Parsees are usually well off and I have not seen yet any poor member of this community, it’s because of the tight unity among the members and support of the poor people by various trustees and through charity organizations within the community. So my informants were economically well off at least.
Ethnic identity: Data was collected only from amongst Parsees who comprise their own particular ethnic and religious community.
Education: Most of the Parsees are educated people. Statistics shows more than 90% of the community members are enough educated.
Occupation: Most of my interviewees were educationists, trustees, priests, public workers, intellectuals, teachers, school children and adult youngsters.
Language: I used English as the language of my research, and so most of the respondents who know English fluently, answered to my enquiries in English language. Generally Parsees know Gujarati and Hindi apart from English. Their mother tongue is actually Gujarati but I learned that Parsees of Hyderabad most times speak Hindi and English. According to my respondents speaking Hindi instead of Gujarati is the basic characteristic of Hyderabadi Parsees, which is the product of Nizam’s cultural influence.
c) Tools and techniques of data collection
Although the sphere of my inquiry was basically anthropological, I focused more on social issues and studied more social facts to analyze and evaluate the behavior of Parsis and the level of their self-consciousness as an ethnic and a religious community. I inquired more into the social institutions and their flexibility and capability (whether) to face challenges in the course of time.
More specific institutions subject to my enquiry were gender relations, class and behavioral patterns of various age groups of Parsis in the context of the community’s culture and identity. My methodology has more to do with ethnographic case study and its basic techniques like participant observation and interviewing in the light of interactionism and ground realities in phenomenological perspective.
So methods and methodology are the basic categories for any kind of research. Without methods a research is not a research but a fiction. There are numerous methods and techniques to study community behavioral patterns and culture, but as it is well known, interview techniques and participant observations were used as the basic methods in qualitative research. So I thought interviewing and observations were more appropriate here in this study as well.
Interviews. In this research mainly two kinds of interviews are focused upon, namely, first are individual interviews with particular personalities on more specific issues and the second are group interviews or focused discussions with people coming together in particular occasions about more general issues in macro level. But also I used another kind of interviews, I rather call them conversations, because they were not intended to be done but happened to be recorded in certain points of time, where some of my informants asked me questions or talked on various topics not related to my research theme. The interviewees were prominent leaders of the community, priests, intellectuals and masses. There was an interview guide or interview schedule followed, which was prepared before entering the filed. But some new questions also arose while experiencing the field environment, which were definitely added. The questions were clear and open-ended enabling respondents to express clearly their views.
Various people were chosen for interviews. I would not need to sample my informants on the basis of age and sex structures in equal basis, because the issues that I was searching for were more of theoretical issues, which did not require much to penetrate deeply into age, and gender structures, where these matters are less relevant in some ways. From other side the age and gender and even class relations among the Parsees are not much of very sensitive and hot issues, because of the flexibility of the structures and institutions within the community to easily face challenges in time and space. I also would not put myself into such limits but rather I felt free to ask various questions from various people even if some were mot much related to my subject. But anyway I tried to the best of my capabilities and opportunities to interview with people of various age groups, children, women, old people, priests, intellectuals, youngsters etc.
Participant observations. Participant observations are of great significance in any kind of filed studies. They give clearer description of events and happenings, their meanings and symbolizations in a space in a fixed point of time. I conducted participant observations in certain occasions, like ceremonies and celebrations or, simply, get-togethers, which are usual amongst the Parsees. One participant observation was done in Parsee dharamshalla while a scholar had come from Bombay with a guest from Tajikistan. There was an interesting meeting and interaction between them. Another participant observation was done in Hormazdruz prayers. Hormazdruz means a day dedicated to god Ahura Mazda and in this day of any month Parsis and all other Zoroastrians pray for God Ahura Mazda. It’s somewhat similar to Muslims and Christians’ Good Friday.
In that day I went to Zoroastrian Dare Meher at invitation of Professor Mrs. Cheney and for the first time observed how Hormazdruz prayers were done. Another observation was made in Nowruz celebration in Fire temple. Here I made three observations, one is inside the fire temple, another is outside the fire temple and the third is in Madame Cheney’s house where people gathered after the prayers in the temple. In the same day there was a celebration in Zoroastrian club where people celebrated Nowruz in more secular way. Here I could not actually attend that celebration because of default of time, since it was done in nighttime lately.
There was birthday of the prophet Zarathushtra in March 27, which was celebrated in Parsi Dar-e-Meher with prayers and ceremonies - another opportunity for deep observation. Here also three observations were made: one inside the fire temple near the fire, another in the hall where people were performing the ceremony and one outside the fire temple in the garden where people gathered and made celebrations.
5) Sampling methods
In general thirteen interviews and four participant observations were made. Most of the interviews were recorded in audiocassette, although there were some mistakes and defaults, for example, during an interview I did not come to know that the batteries finished and the tape was no more working. Only after finishing interviews and crosschecking I came to realize.
From all these five individual interviews were made with female and four with male respondents. In focused group discussions there were four female and six male attending. Age of seven interviewees was between 45 and 60. Eight males and females were from 30 to 45 years. Five girls and boys were between 20 and 25 of ages. There were children of 10-15 ages as well.
It was not my decision to fix or to put a limit to the age and gender structure of the respondents, but it had itself to come to my way. This means that the age/gender of the interviewees was not a necessity or compulsion but the last choice. Although in my interview guide I had specific questions for particular topics and subjects separately, in the field, in some way, I had to give a mixed questions from various topics, it’s because of the knowledge and awareness of the respondent and diversity of his/her interest areas.
In certain occasions I happened to get some photos for better representation of the field and the body of events and occasions held by the community members. For observations I thought the best way was to participate in occasions and ceremonies. Because in ceremonies and occasions one could see the most number of community members, above all ceremonies had great significance in the life and behavior of the people; at least the ceremonies were the main activities where people give certain meaning to their actions. People attend the ceremonies with certain expectations, not only to see friends and talk and eat cakes and drinks and go away, but there is more spiritual meaning, which people attach to their activities in such especially religious ceremonies. The behavior of a group or a community is better studied in such ceremonies or occasions or celebrations or festivals or functions. From other hand one can better understand the influences and role of such ceremonies in the lives of the people and their social behavior or actions.
But how I happened to get into this field? It’s mainly because of my friends – my key informants from within the group I studied and the method of snowballing, that’s getting introduced with more and more people through my key informants. One of my key informants sometimes played in the role of an informant while answering some questions given to my informants. But at the same times he used to be my assistant and used to play the role of interviewer along with me. Because sometimes I felt that some of my informants could not understand my questions and my friend used to interpret and even sometimes asked my questions in other form or sometimes explained in local languages to his compatriots. I feel to thank my key informants for all their assistance.
ANALYSIS OF THE DATA
The history of Parsees in Twin Cities
The Parsees when came from Iran firstly resided in Gujarat, in a place called Sanjan. But in their thousand years history they were present in many other places of India as well, especially during Akbar's reign some of Parsee individuals were employed in higher positions in his court. Their spreading all over India started with the British colonization and further industrialization and other consequences, which the British rule brought about. They started coming to Hyderabad since the Nizam's rule. Those times some of them worked in high positions in the Nizam's government. Later after Independence many other Parsee families also came to Hyderabad for various reasons from other parts of India. Although in recent times most of the youths and young families migrated to other countries, especially US, Canada, Australia etc. there are still a large number of them present in Twin Cities.
From basic data elucidated from information it has been cleared that the history of the Parsees in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad is closely associated with the Nizam’s rule. Most of the interviewees have mentioned about this. It’s generally claimed by the Parsees that first time one of the Nizams of Hyderabad has brought a Parsee, probably the one in the highest position called “Darulmulk”, to his palace and employed him. He was a very honest and hard-working man who showed courage. This made Nizam to believe that Parsees were generally honest and hard-working and even asked the gentlemen to ask as many as more Parsees to come to Hyderabad and be employed in Nizam’s government. So this was the reason why the Parsees came and settled here in Hyderabad. It’s claimed that the Viccaji who had great influence in Nizams had issued his own coins.
Anyway various indications show attachment of the Parsees with the Nizam’s government. And apart from this they have been very active in other fields also and especially governmental positions in other parts of India as during British as later. One can interpret this in various ways. One may be because of historical failure of the Parsees after the defeat of the great Sassanian Empire by the Arabs when they were forced to flee their country and landed in Gujarat and thus remaining betrayed for more than a thousand years. Political failure might change the nature of the community and its attention into economic victories. Second as a small community Parsees had always to be honest and serious in their relationships with other dominant communities. And from other side it’s argued that Parsees could better communicate with the British and for this purpose the Nizam was in need for them. But then one can argue what was the reason that the British could communicate better with Parsees?
To a great extent one can attribute the hardworking of the Parsees and their honesty to the influence of their religion. In fact, as Max Weber would put it, it’s the ideology that can also have impact on the people equally to economic factors , although in the case of Parsees it may need more elaboration.
So the first families coming to Hyderabad were that of Viccaji and then Chenai families, which still have greater influence among the Parsees of the twin cities. Still most of the trustees belong to these families and the members of these families look after most of the fire temples and other Zoroastrian institutions.
Various Parsees mention the names of the famous Parsees who worked in the Nizam’s government as a matter of proud. Parsees these days respect and have certain affinity towards Nizams. I saw the pictures of some Nizam queens and kings in some Parsee houses and it would show their greater respect to that monarchy. All these are may be because of various gains the Parsees could have benefited from Nizams and at the same time could very well benefit the Nizams. However one cannot deny the account of their capability and skillfulness along with honesty and responsibility in office.
Apart from these the cultural influence of the Nizams is eminently seen in the culture and way of life of the Hyderabadi Parsees. As they themselves would admit, the very fact of speaking Hindi (Urdu) here in Hyderabad instead of Gujarati tells about the cultural influence of the Nizams. Though a lot of other influences or at least cultural inter-influences could be better revealed in more extensive research.
Fire temples have the most significant role in the life of the Parsees. Fire temples are all what symbolizes the religion and spirituality of the Parsees as well as their blind beliefs and have greater impact in their identity. In fact it’s fire temple that not only defines the Zoroastrian identity in general, but also Parsee identity in particular. In India Parsees are distinguished at least by having fire temple in full sense of the words. They are the place all Parsees gather and commune with their God, pray and perform ceremonies and lastly maintain integrity within the community.
The main fire temple, which I visited several times, is the Dar-e-Meher of Mahatma Gandhi road in Secunderabad. Most of the ceremonies and jashns (celebrations) are performed here. It’s a big fire temple and has a good construction. Entering the fire temple one should have a headscarf. Parsees have their own kind of headwear and Parsee women most times put one side f their sarees in their heads or have their own headscarves. Entrance for non-Zoroastrians is not allowed.
Before entering the temple Parsees always wash their hands in the balcony where a bank of water is put. Then they untie and tie their kushties (white thread) around their waist while praying sodreh-koshti prayers. Then they enter the fire temple. Upon entering in the first step there is a temple employee who sells pieces of sandalwoods. Prices differ from one to five or sometimes ten rupees (if bigger sticks are available). Then in a corner there are one or two big plates with oil candles in glasses in them. There are more than fifty candles and every person should light one only. The number of lighted candles shows the number of people visiting temple. After the lighting, one has to pray before the fire.
Khan Bahadur Seth Edulji Sohrabji Chenai Dar-e-Meher in 125 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Secunderabad.
Usually Parsees first bow down before the fire and kiss the steps and then open their prayer books and sit in chairs face-to-face to the holy fire and read their prayers loudly or lowly in their books. After finishing prayers once more they bow down before the fire and then go out. If there are any pictures of the prophet or some saints in the walls of the fire temple, some Parsees, as I observed, go and worship to them and kiss those pictures with their hand and put in their eyes.
In Secunderabad fire temple, there is a hall in between the balcony and the room where the fire is located so that from balcony one enters the hall and then the prayer room. In that hall in two sides there are chairs and usually men sit in one side and women sit in the other. And one line of chairs is located in one side opposite to both others. This hall is used for certain ceremonies and occasions, celebrations and festivals.
There are a lot of pictures of saints and famous Parsis in the walls in the hall who had great contributions in the community development that Parsees keep sacred. Once I counted those pictures, so in the right side towards outside there were thirteen portraits, opposite to it eleven and three pictures in each two other sides. The hall has two doors and three windows with some big mirrors at the right-side wall. There is a big clock standing in the western part of the hall.
All these show to what degree the Parsees are attached to the fire-temples as their main religious institution. Some Parsees may also attach certain spiritual significance to the fire and fire temples. But these are rather superficial.
Fire temples usually have a hierarchy. Three kinds of fire temples are mentioned hierarchically in traditional scriptures. Fire temples called “Atash Behrams” are the highest ones and there are only eight such temples in India. Then comes Iranshahs, lower in grade and lately Atash Adarans.
Priesthood is perhaps the one institution more or les showing hierarchy and some features of class relationships. Zoroastrian religion in general and among Parsis in particular has always challenged and modified in the course of time and have never been that much immobile as it can be seen in many other religions.
One can say that priests comprise a particular class of people within the community. But in terms of hierarchy and stratification based on income or salary or whatever else we cannot include the priesthood into any of such theoretical classes according to modern science. There is no hierarchy among the Parsees even among more richer and poorer groups of people. There is no hierarchy among priests and non-priests either.
Priesthood is indeed an occupation and the priests are paid a salary. Their salary depends upon the trustee of the fire temple and differs from location to location. Trustees are those who look after the temple and most probably the temples are built by their fund and bear the name of their families. So the temple in Secunderabad belongs to a Chenai family and most times members of this family are elected as the trustee of the fire temple as well as the presidents of Anjuman. The trustees also give them accommodation and food free of charge. Apart from salary the priests may earn from performing ceremonies and rituals in families and in the temple. So they are employees and are employed by the trustees on behalf of the community. This makes them totally dependent on the community rather than dominant over the community. Indeed they do not have dominance in no case except certain circumstances which again they politically express the view of certain trustee groups.
Priesthood in Zoroastrism although has some particular characteristics can never be compared with the caste system. A priest can marry from non-priest family and again a girl from priestly class can marry from non-priest families.
The main biases in the institution of priesthood are it’s being gender-biased and to some extent being hereditary. Hereditary in the sense that the priesthood is a hereditary right that is given to the people and one can loose this right if more than one generation does not become priest. In order one to become a priest at least three generations of her fathers should have been a priest.
The matter of gender is that women cannot become priests. It’s most times debated in Zoroastrism, so that the history shows that some times there were women-priests. When asking a question about why women cannot become priests a Parsi priest smiles and admits that it’s because of patriarchal system and patriarchal society. And he does not think there is any passage from religious scriptures to indicate this matter.
Priests have some kind of hierarchy from within themselves. A person in order to become a full-fledged priest should pass three steps. These steps are called navar and martab and salim. But not all dasturs (priests) pass all these steps, most of them remain just as navar. One can say that it’s a manifestation of the same hierarchy of fires and fire-temples in three grades.
Gender and identity
The matter of gender and identity was very well approached while speaking about priestly class. It has been revealed that women do not become priests although there were no such passages mentioned in religious scriptures. This is from one side, from the other side we will see the status of women is not influential in defining identity of a person. It’s better and clearer seen in the issue of intermarriage with other communities. If a man marries from outside his children are considered Parsees and Zoroastrians and are encouraged to practice religion of the Parsees.
But if women marry outside the identity of their children is denied or not accepted ‘because of the patriarchal society’ as a young priest has mentioned. This is more or less problematic and most of female informants expressed their concerns. Because this would mean that identity could be inherited only through males and so the role of women and their part in establishing nationhood or ethnic or religious identity is not recognized. It’s because, one can argue, that the world of identities have always been a construction of a patriarchal mind and patriarchal ideologies.
There are some more issues which are related to women. For example according to religious and traditional rules during the childbirth Parsee women should stay in their home for forty days and nobody should see them. Even during menstrual period women should keep themselves far from the kitchen and should be isolated in the room. Some modernists would argue against these customs and consider them as female oppression, while the other group, especially some females do not call them oppression but hygienic and medically correct.
Interaction within and without
The interaction between Parsees and other communities could also be found in previous sections, especially that of the Nizams’ which we have debated. Despite the speculations that as if Parsees were too much isolated within their fold and are tied with an ancient cult of “fire-worshipping” the real social investigation would probably reveal their very flexibility to communicate with all kind of people and intermingling with all communities.
Labeling them as ‘fire-worshipers’ and calling their religion ‘an ancient cult’ is nothing but a sign of ignorance and unawareness of history of civilizations as well as unaccountability on evaluation of cultures from the part of many anthropologists.
Parsees are generally very flexible and communicable with all kinds of peoples. As the data reveals most times Parsees have charity works towards their own as well as other communities. At the same time they have good interaction with the members of other ethnic and religious communities. The fact that they were the bridge between the British and the Nizams itself speaks of their great diplomatic and communicative talents.
As a result of interaction one can see various influences from local communities in the Parsee culture. When they came to India they accepted Indian code of dress, way of life, although preserved their distinct characteristics. These were discussed in some of my interviews.
Especially some kinds of superstitions and religious rituals like breaking coconut etc. in the well or somewhere else could be traced to indigenous cultures. Some times I observed that some Parsee people confuse prophet Zarathushtra with god Ahura Mazda. I have heard from Parsees showing the picture of the prophet and telling it was God. And also the case of some old Parsee women worshipping and kissing the pictures of the prophet and saints or legendary kings can be very well associated with their way of socialization within Indian communities, where many like saibabas etc. are considered God. These could be the result of some imitations from the local Indian cultures.
From cultural perspective they could develop very well into western classic music and dance, fiction writing etc. These show the high degree of flexibility of the community to intermingle and interact with other communities and groups.
Business and transaction affairs as well require communicability and interactiveness. In general in all spheres they do communicate well with members of other communities.
Most of the informants emphasized on the Parsees’ great focus on education of themselves and their children. In fact Indian statistics shows the highest proportion Parsees’ education as quoted by Luhrman.
It depends extensively on the well being of the community. As far as the community is economically developed, it must have more focus on the education of their children. Apart from the Weberian argument regarding rationalization and rational action does very well fit here. The Parsee community is enough rationalized and every individual knows that the only way to reach the good life in the modern technocratic society is through education. It means that as opposed to many other communities in India which are bound to traditional influence, the Parsees have already passed the phase of traditional action according to Weber and now are adjusted to the modern notion of rationality, though the possibility of many traditional views and commitments in some Parsee individuals can not be ruled out.
From other side the religion of the Parsees that’s Zoroastrism as compared to most other religions has more emphasis on reason and rationality than belief/faith and love. As the history shows the ancient Iranian societies under Zoroastrian ideology were more rational than committed to beliefs as the modern Iran.
The Parsee youngsters in Hyderabad and Secunderabad are most times live in interaction with members of other communities. There was sometimes an organization called Parsee Youth league, which supposedly stopped its activities now. But still fro my interviews I found that the youngsters sometimes gather in Zoroastrian club a place for recreations and have various games and plays etc. But most of their lives those who live outside the baghs, live with other communities, but those who live inside the baghs spend their lives within the Parsee fold.
The youngsters have certain degree of knowledge about their history and identity, culture and religion. Although they may not have enough access to more literature and sources regarding their history, they at least know who are Parsees and how they have appeared in India.
I saw youngsters very few in temples and religious ceremonies and it’s definitely because of the nature of youths which is very secular and are not attracted to religion and temple. But in certain times of celebration I could see some youths who were very respectful to religious values.
From other side most of the Parsee youths are either busy with their education or live outside the country in the search of better education and better life. It’s clear that most of the Parsees of higher strata send their children to study abroad. This maybe the basic reason the presence of the youths is less observable in certain occasions.
Patterns of secular culture
Under the phrase secular culture we mean the way the community lives and celebrates life free from constrains of religion and superstitious beliefs. It mean the moments when the people celebrate the glories and enjoyments of life while feeling free from the thoughts and beliefs and constrains related to the next world and judgment, the hell and paradise etc.
Ceremonies and rituals performed in the temple or in the mosque are celebrated in a very serious form and people are committed to observe certain rules and restrictions, which dislinks them from worldly and lively desires. While in a secular way of celebration of festivals, customs, and even rituals people feel more free and follow their desires and wills which are more worldly and optimistic more often. I observed that after Nowruz ceremony in the fire temple the Parsees re-celebrate this festival and of course many other festivals also outside the temple, that’s in Zoroastrian club, or in the house of a Parsee woman in Secunderabad or in the garden of Dar-e-Meher in a very secular manner. While celebration inside is subject to certain religious rules, prayers by the priest and everybody is due to keep quiet and certain limits which are derived from the notion of temple being sacred place, outside the temple people are not subject to any rules and etiquette and feel free to talk, to laugh, to speak loudly, to eat whatever they want, to dance, to sing etc…
In Parsee case the secular way of celebration of community festivals are mostly associated with food and drinking, giving awards to the best people of the year, sometimes performing arts of singing, dancing, just sitting at the tables and chatting on various issues, meeting friends, etc. For example I recoded a conversation of two old men who were chatting on their travels to Nepal, Afghanistan, Soviet Union… while having their food in the house of Mrs C. It is regular, as I observed that Mrs. C. often in most festivals organizes a gathering in her house where most of the Parsees, especially old men and women come and enjoy secular way of celebration of life (photos in this section should be referred to).
Study of the structure and patterns of a religious or an ethnic community like Parsees is of great significance and is very interesting. Although my emphasis was more on identity and interaction, I found a lot of small and invisible issues, which are worth of study and elaboration. In macro-level there are a lot of works done about the Parsee community and their way of life, their religion, rituals, ceremonies, the meanings and symbolization of these ceremonies and rituals, signs and codes subject to cultural interpretations etc. But I encountered very few works done about patterns and structure of these symbols and signs, ceremonies and rituals, their derivations and causality of emergence, differences within differences, marks within marks, challenges within challenges etc.
The careful study of the secular culture while separating it from religious values and institutions opens more and more space for the discovery of a community like the Parsees whose group or ethnic identity is so much intermingled with religion that their separation is less imaginable. It would mean that in the time of value-polarizations under the dominion of the emerging powerful pluralistic global culture we should no more be committed to study groups under the religious banner, but a very secular approach with a kind of not looking at religion and belief would be more beneficial in terms of both de-politicization of faith as well as intermarrying the cultures.
While the Parsees are most times studied either from within or from without, that’s mostly by Parsee intellectuals themselves and from other hand more western anthropologists, and all irrespective to Sociological imaginations it would be of greater significance if they were studied on the basis of sociological ways of enquiry and discovery.
I had told that I have emphasized more on sociality of issues and the way problems or values or institutions were socially created, constructed and designed due to social causations. And at the same time there was and there still is a necessity for sociological interpretations of their culture and symbols and signs as patterns of that culture, that’s conceptualizing from the position of the masses or in a very subaltern way as encountering to the elite and outsider academic connotations of identities and cultures. I mean that sociological enquiry provides more space and more freedom for the masses to give their views and their own interpretations of thief identities and cultures, symbols and signs. This is a kind of monitoring the views of the groups about their lives and meanings they give to their everyday actions, the meaning they themselves attribute to their signs and symbols, to their culture.
Religion as being the product of the elites is always controlled by the new generations of the new elites while having dominion over the masses. It has always transferred from elite to elite without its real voice and real message reaching the senses of the masses, who more often blindly and algorithmically follows the basic rules and principles, while ignoring or leaving the deep philosophy for the elite members of a community.
I found the ground realities in the Parsee community are less in tune with claims of a few elites called traditionalists who have monopolized all rights over the values of Zoroastrian religion for themselves and intentionally prevent the dissemination of the messages once upon a time brought by a great man called Zarathushtra.
At the same time confusions of the two kinds of identities that’s of religion from one hand and of race or ethnic identity from the other serve the intentions, interests and wants of certain ideological groups.
As I realized in revealing all these truths and biases sociology can give better answer than some other fields of enquiry. I hope for more and more contribution of the subject in the future in the study of identities and institutions defining and influencing the identities, the ways the identities are constructed in the light of interactions between various communities and intercultural relationships, the way these relationships influence and challenge the identities by disturbing the dominant preventive structures.
Many of these finds can be taken into account in the future enquiries with more broader and broader approaches.
I found Parsees very flexible community who can easily adjust changes and their institutions also more mobile and less harmful. A kind of secular way of life in good harmony with Zoroastrian religion, which they kept alive until now, along with very mobile institutions and structures is worthy to be researched and popularized.
1. Adil J. Govadia. Life, Death and Rituals. Dokhmenashini. A Zarathushtrian Perspective through the eyes of Occult Science and Mysticism.
3. Some brochures and documents issued by the Parsee Anjuman in Secunderabad,
4. Journals, books, periodicals, which are published in India and outside about the Parsees, their culture, Zoroastrian religion etc…
5. Bibliographical resources in the Indira Gandhi Memorial Library of University of Hyderabad.
6. Instructions and guides on social research methods and Research Methodology at all.
1) INTRODUCTION: 1-2
2) METHODOLOGY: 2-6
a) Field Description
b) Selection of the Site
c) Profile of the Respondents
d) Tools of Data collection
e) Sampling Methods
3) ANALYSIS OF THE DATA: 7-12
a) Occupational Structure and wage distribution
b) Gender relation and power
c) Property and Wealth
d) Sexual Harassment
e) Family Planning
h) Basic Amenities:
4) SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION: 12
Self reflexivity Note
Field Notes and