#WorldRefugeeDay: How Parsi Refugees From Yesterday Became Citizens of Today
In the last few years, the world has been grappling with the refugee crisis. The innovations in technology has made the whole experience of witnessing a crisis very visceral and we hadn’t encountered a crisis of this scale since World War II.
However, it is undeniable that human history is centred around victories and conquering lands. And the present may not be too different — people losing lives or being displaced from their homelands.
In India, the distinct Parsi Community might now be part of the colourful fabric of minorities stitched together, but they were once refugees too, who much like today’s Syrians, fled their homeland on boats and ships. After the fall of the Sassanian Empire (which had endorsed Zoroastrianism as the state religion) in Iran in 642 CE to Arab Muslims, a group of Zoroastrians sought refuge from religious persecution in the western shores of India.
This Zoroastrian group, which sailed from the Pars region of Iran to today’s Gujarat, is known as Parsis.
According to Qissa-i-Sanjan (Story of Sanjan), a 16th century lore on the life of the early Zoroastrian settlers in India, when the refugees first arrived on the shores of Sanjan, they were presented with a full glass of milk by the local ruler Jadi Rana. It was a metaphor conveying the message that there was no space for the newcomers. It was then that the Zoroastrians responded by adding a spoonful of sugar to the milk, demonstrating that they would be ‘like sugar in a full cup of milk, adding sweetness but not causing it to overflow’.
They were allowed to live and follow their religion after agreeing to a few of Jadi Rana’s conditions: they would explain their religion to him, they would learn the local language, the women would wear sarees and they would conduct weddings after sunset. This “selective assimilation”, as termed by Harvard Pluralism Project, is what led to the distinctiveness of Parsis from their Zoroastrian counterparts who stayed back in Iran.