How You Were Never Told About the Real Minorities in India
The higher we soar the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.
It wasn’t until I read Nietzsche’s most famous and truly prophetic book that I became aware of Zoroastrianism. A major religion practised in Persia in the days of Queen Esther, before the Arabs conquered the region, Zoroastrians fled from Iran in between 8th to the 10th century to avoid persecution by the hands of brute Muslim forces. A tale of exodus still defines the Parsi community in India who recall their gratitude to the rulers of Greater Sindh and in general Indian population for their survival in cruel times.
Promising the wheels of the world’s cheapest car Ratan Tata, singing aloud the hymns of love Freddie Mercury, curing the epidemic Africa through the world’s largest vaccine-producing company Cyrus Poonawalla , or selling shampoo to real estate to animal feed Adi Godrej, Parsi community has contributed to Indian success story at every nook and corner. Be it, the legendary Sohrab Modi or John Abraham, the once-running-for-life Parsi settlers have been a household name thanks to their multi-dimensional presence in Pan-Indian culture.
The Parsis set up modern theatre in Bombay when Wajid Ali Shah was still in Awadh. Khaled Ahmed wrote about this shocking juxtaposition, observed by Zia Mohyeddin. Parsis made much money on opium and some still hold that against them (I don’t). But when they came into wealth, they transformed the way they looked at the world around them, unlike the rest of us.
If we ranked Indians by community, I would place Parsis right on top as the finest Indians. It is true that many outstanding Indian managers, Hindu and Muslim, are running Tata Steel, Tata Motors, the Taj hotels, TCS and all the fine firms that make up the Tata group. But there is a higher purpose to heading Tata Sons than ensuring the smooth production of Land Rovers and Jaguars, the sale of software and steel and bottled water.This higher purpose is more secure in the hands of a Parsi.
And frankly speaking, India is always indebted to the founding director of Tata Institute of Fundamental Science, Homi J. Bhabha who cut roads to make India a nuclear power. Same India wouldn’t have hoisted its flag on August 15h 1947 without the freedom struggle conceived by visionary leaders including Dadabhai Naoroji, another Parsi star.
The Fire is Soon to Shrink
Having said that, one must be worried why the Parsi population in India is declining at an unprecedented rate. Since the census of 2001, Indian Parsi population is 57,264, an approximate 18% drop from 69,601 before. That is even more alarming in contrast to Indian national population that increases by 21% per census decade. Dystopian as it might sound too concerned nationals, the Parsi population is suspected to shrink to an all-time low of 23,000, thus making them an extinct tribe amidst political economy.
Unlike aggressive religious strategies employed by Christians, and Muslims (now even Hindus have joined them through Ghar Wapsi programme) , Parsi faith hasn’t done any noticeable effort in converting ‘others’ into their faith. This was a critical condition laid down by the ruler of Gujarat before allowing asylum to a group of Zoroastrians back in 8th century.
Making matters worse is the ultra-orthodox mindset when it comes to expanding the community. In a 1908 Bombay High Court judgment, the verdict reasserted that “Parsi” is an ethnic entity restricted to the descendants of those Persian refugees. The case of retaining the purity of blood, compounded by less-logical laws of inheritance. In the same judgment, it was decided that in case of a mixed marriage, the children will be Parsi only when the father is Parsi. That sure has blown the prospects of inheriting wealth, and also tradition amidst the alarmed Parsi scholars, liberals and intermarried women. The counter-reason provided by the liberals to refresh the gene pool has always been cornered down, not just by an orthodox Parsi society but also a much-larger paranoia.
With around 60000 Zoroastrians in India and some 40000 scattered elsewhere in the world, do we need to emphasize that Parsis are the real minority group, both in India and globally?
The Mainstream Opinion about the minorities in India
As introduced by the United Nations, India celebrates the Minorities’ Rights day on December 18th, 2017. To promote the legal and socio-political rights of minority communities, the Indian government is striving to better the educational upliftment, employment opportunities and financial inclusion of the left-behind minority sections. As per the article 16, 25, 29, and 30 of the Indian constitution, Indian sovereignty is committed to protecting a citizen against all forms of biases and discrimination. This, at least in principle, will dissolve the inter-group hostility and safeguards the rights of linguistic, ethnic, cultural and religious minorities.
With the emergence of a healthy-mandate winning BJP Government in 2014, several countrymen have suspected the government’s ambiguity to deliver security and social/political equality to the minority communities. Mainstream media, activists, and celebrities have never missed a chance to write off against those in favor of what is loosely called a pro-Hindutva ideology. Many still believe that BJP-led government is a threat to the peaceful co-existence of minorities in India.
Murder of scholars having a critical opinion about the present-day ruling ideology, killing and mob lynching of individuals suspected of storing beef in his refrigerator, display of aggression towards Muslim film actors etc. further strengthens the collective fears the minorities are encroached with. An urban citizen who derives news mainly from digital media and has little access or intelligence to grasp the larger scene is only too right to assume that the government policies are against minorities. Well grounded for profit, or at least sensational brand-making, media hasn’t shown any hesitation in feeding him more of such apprehension, thus screening his common sense.
So to speak, the minorities day is a symbolic event to protect Indian diversity and maintain coexistence amongst the social fabric of the country. But what if you just realized that the media, the celebrities, writers/scholars and news-actors have narrowed their definition of minorities to contain only the Muslims and Christians?
All that’s Fair in Love and War
Christian ambitions that spread from the Vatican and have hegemonized the world peace is at any rate exposed in this age of digital rationality. Be it the imperial rule’s strategy to dilute the Indian ethos or even Indian elite’s fetish towards fair-skinned theology, one wonders if philanthropists like Mother Teresa haven’t made the situation even more complex than it historically was.
Assuming that Muslims with an 18-crore population (14.2% of Indian population) and the highest fertility rate in India (way higher than that in Islamist countries) are minorities is a political narrative seldom challenged in our democratic institutions.
Surely Muslims form a major vote-bank and have wishfully appropriated themselves this vulnerability much to the benefit of political gambles. Stretched by American hatred on Muslims as a race and towards Middle-East domination on oil and thus the emergence of Islamist terrorism, Indian Muslims stand on the crossroads of sympathy and hostility, but never equality and justice.
We need to introspect about our political stands before correcting the popular sentiments about the minorities. Societies that live the imagination of plurality is often constructed on the premises of conflict between threatening and exemplary minorities. How and why is that the hardwired right-wing politics has been hostile to Muslims and Christians and yet retained their affection towards other minorities, be it the Jains, Sikhs, and as we surely believe, Parsi community?
Relying on the historical arguments that shape distinction between the majorities and minorities, an exemplary community that bases its existence on acculturation and ambience is facing extinction, which is more daunting than it seems on the tip of the iceberg.
That brings us to question if we got the argument against the much-alleged pro-hindutva ideology undisputed?