In early October last year, a petition was sent to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, with regards to the latest phase of the Mumbai metro – a 33.5km stretch that is currently under construction.
The petition claimed that the metro, if built, would “breach the magnetic circuits” of two Zoroastrian fire temples, thus “diminishing their spiritual powers” and unleashing “dark forces”. The petition was signed by 11,000 people, which is a large number from an already dwindling community.
The petition concluded,
“the temples being living, vibrant … intermediaries between God and mankind” as they are, if these “holy fires are defiled, the backlash from nature will not spare those responsible”.
In the last week of September 2018, almost a year after the petition, what could have been an amiable solution to the ongoing Metro III-Atash Behram tussle, ended in yet another court hearing that now questioned the importance of the holy structures for the Parsi community.
Arguing in the Bombay High Court, representatives of the state and central government said the “two-and-a-half documents” provided by the Parsi petitioners were “simply not enough” to prove how integral the Wadiaji and Anjuman Atash Behrams, which fall along the proposed alignment of Metro III, are for the Zoroastrian religion, reported Mid-Day.
Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, advocate general representing the state government, stated that all beliefs cannot be granted protection under Article 25 of the Constitution (freedom of religion). He said,
“We’re dealing with a religion which built such a magnificent structure in the 1830s. We expect them to give evidence for the claims they’re making. The two-and-a-half documents provided by them are simply not enough.”
While Kumbhakoni did not specify which documents he was referring to, the petitioners have submitted an affidavit from Dr. Rooyintan Peshotan Peer, a senior Parsi religious scholar, which describes the importance of the Atash Behrams.
Kumbhakoni further raised questions about the petitioner’s claims that the community’s fire temples will be desecrated if the Metro III underground tunnel is constructed anywhere beneath the Atash Behram premises.
“There has to be material evidence to prove that the entire premises needs a connection with the earth, and that the religion will collapse if the tunnel goes under the premises that are consecrated. This has not been proven as per the material available on record,” he said.
Raising similar points, Anil Singh, the additional solicitor general representing the central government referred to the concept of ‘Karsh,’ which are the protective spiritual circuits around the Atash Behrams, and stated that the scriptures had no mention about their physical boundaries.
Most Peaceful Community in India Infuriated?
The points raised by Kumbhakoni and Singh infuriated the members of the Parsi community who attended the hearing. They felt like they were being unfairly targeted, despite being one of the world’s oldest surviving religions.
Yazdi Hodiwalla, a senior member of the community said,
“More than 80 per cent of the scriptures were destroyed by Alexander III, and later, by the Arabs. Oral tradition is what we have now, which is passed down from generation to generation. We’re unable to produce concrete documented proof, but that doesn’t mean our religious beliefs aren’t valid.”
Shashi Tharoor, Congress Leader and Member of Parliament, on Wednesday tweeted in support of the diminishing, yet powerful and peace loving contributors to India’s story. He said, that the Parsis have done so much for our nation and yet an arrogant Government threatens their place of worship. He also urged the state to stop this abuse immediately.
The Parsis have done so much for our nation & yet an arrogant BJP Govt threatens their Fire Temple: can decent people stay silent in the face of this shameless assault? Would we let such vile demands be made of any larger community? Stop this abuse now! https://t.co/TV16KTWu8M
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) October 3, 2018
Many other supporters tweeted in response to Tharoor’s tweet,
Don't leave any religion caste community which you & your party can't politicise ! Despite being a micro minority Parsis never beg anything from government.
— Sangeeta Tyagi (@sangeeta_tyagi) October 3, 2018
Dear @PMOIndia, @Dev_Fadnavis: Parsis have upheld the best of Indian traditions and are integral to India. It's outrageous that their sensitivities are being ignored. Our Nation has to endure all of us. Please have this blunder averted. Let's not weaken India.
— Kunal Kishore (@qounal) October 3, 2018
Thank u for sharing our current issue. Parsi’s r peaceful people and believe in progress of all. We have certain beliefs with regards to our prayers n it’s our sincere hope that the Indian govt will support us. We have never asked anything, just that we should not be trampled on.
— Anaheeta R. Balsara (@anaheetabalsara) October 4, 2018
— Abhishek Shah (@shahabhis) October 4, 2018
Thanks to side with the Parsis , the quiet community will soon start demanding their rights too in form of quota which as of now they detest , they will come up with their own social party if not political by the name of" UNITED PARSI CONGRESS"
Under " INC" that I will make sure
— AB (@ADILSBHAMGARA) October 3, 2018
Interestingly, in December 2015, Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister of India had praised business acumen of Parsi community and said that in quest to boost Indian economy in adverse global situation, the nation would require business leaders from the community.
Addressing the Zoroastrians from a coastal town Udvada while attending ‘Iranshah Udvada Utsav’ – India first ever global congregation of the minority Parsi community, Jaitley had acknolwedged entrepreneurial ability of the minority community members. He also quoted that that Parsis are extremely important for the higher economic growth of India.