Himself becomes supporter of Untruth."
The problem of Intermarriage has bedevilled our community throughout the Twentieth Century, to the extent that almost all the other noxious controversies that have drained us nearly to the point of collapse, have had their source, directly or indirectly, in this single phenomenon.
What started out in the early 1900s with a wealthy and westernized intermarried Parsi gentleman claiming "conversion rights" (denied by the Bombay High Court) for his European spouse, has snowballed by the 1990s into something that threatens to wipe out the Ethno-Religious Identity of the Zarathushtrian stock. This Identity is our life-blood, and its loss spells certain death for our community.
Since Intermarriage affects the very mainsprings of our existence, it is the No.1 survival issue facing us. Every Parsi should treat it as a top priority subject calling for deep anxiety and dispassionate examination. It is to stimulate such anxiety and examination that this article is being offered to the community.
So much has been written, for and against Intermarriage, that it is now time to cut through the bewildering maze of information, misinformation and disinformation by providing a clear, simple SUMMARY of the unvarnished facts and implications of this paramount problem.
That is what this article attempts to do. Detail and complexity would defeat the purpose, and have therefore been deliberately avoided. It should be clearly understood, however, that whatever is stated here has been carefully researched and is factually supported.
We have run out of time for armchair opinions and private interests jeopardizing the public good. When we are in such great confusion and peril, the only solution is to go back to our roots, to our sacred scriptural and religious texts, for information, inspiration and implementation. If we do not, where Alexander and the Arabs failed, we will yet succeed.
There are three summaries provided in this article:-
(I) "The Jewish Experience." This will demonstrate that we are not "crying 'wolf!'." The ancient Jewish community is historically similar to our own in many ways. Their experience with Intermarriage is a living story for all Parsis to hear and heed.
At around 12 million, the global Jewish population is tiny - and declining. About 55% of the world's Jews live in North America, with most of them in the U.S. where the level of Intermarriage is 40% - and rising. It is a crisis, and alarmed Jews are now hitting the panic button.
If the Jews are described as "a tiny minority in the world," how to describe the Parsis who are about 1% of the Jews? Our plight is similar - but immeasurably magnified.
Our summary draws on quotations from: (a) Dr. W. Gunther Plaut, a senior scholar in Canada, commenting on the U.S.-based Egon Mayer Study ("Deen Parast," Nov./Dec. 1992), (b) "The Toronto Star's" religion reporter, Jack Kapica, commenting on the Jewish predicament in Canada, and drawing, from among other sources, on the Eli Rubenstein Report ("Deen Parast," Nov./Dec. 1992), (c) Members of a 9-member North American Jewish Delegation visiting India ("The Times of India," 07/12/93), and (d) William Safire writing in "The New York Times" ("The Times of India," 25/07/95). [NOTE: For smoother reading, which quotation comes from which of these four sources is not being specified in this summary.]
(II) "The Parsi Plight." This will demonstrate the magnitude of the Intermarriage problem, based on statistical data reported in "Parsiana" magazine. Being quantitative only, however, this does not bring out the serious qualitative repercussions on various aspects of the unique Zarathushtrian way of life.
(III) "Zarathushtrian Religious Mandates." This is the heart of the matter, and the final decider on how we should think and what we should do. The buck stops here.
It is not as if our Religion is silent on Intermarriage, so that we can "fill in the blanks" as we like. Far from it. There are several, not just one or two, extant testimonies taking a firm and consistent stand on the issue. When these exist in black-and-white, where is the room for dispute? How can we say we are Zarathushtrians if we doubt, denigrate, distort or defy the evidences from the timeless and time-tested Zarathushtrian scriptural and religious texts themselves?
It is, sadly, a frequent misconception that our community's general disfavour of intermarriages merely reflects an anachronistic custom or tradition that has its origin in some distant social or environmental compulsions that are not relevant anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. This age-old custom and tradition has its origin in nothing less than the mandates of the Zarathushtrian Religion, as enshrined in the sacred Zarathushtrian texts. The Zarathushtrian scriptures are not opportunistic or tactical responses to time-specific compulsions of a particular day and age. They are timeless expositions of timeless spiritual truths translated into a timeless religious way of life for the evolution of our souls towards Frasho-kereti.
(I) The Jewish Experience
(II) The Parsi Plight
(NOTE: (i) Data sourced from "Parsiana" magazine's monthly "milestones" section. (ii) Statistics for Bombay seem fairly reliable, due to larger sample size. (iii) For the rest of India, and for foreign countries as well, sample sizes too small for reliable results. (iv) Raw data retabulated for each year, to show community ratio of intermarriages to total number of marriages on exact calendar year basis. (v) Percentages rounded off to the nearest decimal.)
(III) Zarathushtrian Religious Mandates
(1) Intermarriage is a religious, not sociological, issue. Social impacts, yes; but social issue, no. This is an issue that is addressed and ruled upon in our religious texts in a religious context.
The crux of the matter is that there are at least half-a-dozen injunctions (proscriptions and prescriptions) in the sacred Zarathushtrian religious texts - ranging from the Gathas to the Rivayats - enjoining marriage exclusively within the Mazdayasni-Zarathushtri fold, for both women and men equally. Intermarriages are portrayed as sinful. It is no wonder, then, that they cannot be recognized or ratified in the eyes of the Zarathushtrian Religion. (N.B.: The present writer's in-depth researches on some of these textual injunctions have been published and are available to interested readers on request.)
[NOTE: The Zarathushtrian Religion cannot contradict itself by endorsing or actuating a practice that is regarded as sinful in its own Holy Writ. Moreover, there is no discrimination between the sexes either in the Religion in general or in its injunctions on Intermarriage in particular.
[Therefore, the Zarathushtrian Marriage Sacraments are not, and cannot be, bestowed on Parsi intermarriages - for men and women both. These intermarriages are always civil, not religious, marriages. The very definition of the term "civil" is: lay, secular, temporal, not ecclesiastical. It needs to be emphasized and understood that a Zarathushtrian marriage is a religious sacrament and not just a civil contract.
[Clearly, it is impossible for the "eyes of the Zarathushtrian Religion" to recognize a Parsi intermarriage that has not been, and indeed could not have been, performed under its own marital sacraments required by its own religious laws. The expression "eyes of the Religion" has been used advisedly, because life has a myriad dimensions and the non-recognition of intermarriages applies in the domain of institutionalized religion only. In the various other nonreligious dimensions of life, therefore, there must be full recognition and acceptance, without let or hindrance, of all Parsis married under civil contract, as well as of their children and spouses.]
(2) When intermarriages themselves, contracted by Parsi men or women, are neither recognizable nor performable in the sight of the Zarathushtrian Religion, the question of the progenies having any rights to the Zarathushtrian Religion simply cannot arise.
(3) The real issue, therefore, is not whether the progenies of intermarried Parsi women should be inducted into the Religion, but whether the progenies of intermarried Parsi men have any rights to it at all. On both these counts, the Zarathushtrian Religion's answer is an undiscriminatory "no."
[NOTE: As pointed out earlier, discrimination between the sexes has no place in the Zarathushtrian Religion. The artificial discrimination (for its genesis, see point no. 4, below) created in recent times between the children of intermarried Parsi men and those of intermarried Parsi women is a blot on our community and must be removed. In conformity with Zarathushtrian religious mandates, the only rightful way in which this can be achieved is to stop inducting the children of intermarried Parsi men into the Zarathushtrian Religion. This should be more than evident from the authentic religious position explained in points no. 1 and 2, above. The alternative notion of removing the discrimination by also inducting the children of intermarried Parsi women contravenes the Religion's express mandates and is therefore not an acceptable option - two wrongs do not make a right.]
(4) A male-chauvinistic "custom," discriminating in favour of the children of Parsi men, has been gradually infiltrated into the Community since 1908 by vested interests through the misuse of a highly debatable "obiter dictum." (An "obiter dictum" is a juristical side-comment and not a judgment.) This particular "obiter," which happened to be mentioned in the "Parsi Panchayet Case" of 1906 to 1908, has been upheld as nothing more than an "obiter" in subsequent 1948, 1950 and 1960 Judgments as well. It should be noted that the real issue in the 1906-08 Case was defined by the Judge himself as being only the claim (adjudged void, by the way) of certain "conversion rights" for a French lady who had married a prominent Parsi - no judicial decree was ever passed for allowing the induction of any progenies of such marriages into the Zarathushtrian Religion.
[NOTE: For long centuries prior to 1908, no one-sided exception discriminating in favour of the children of intermarried Parsi men has ever existed at all. The universal practice of not inducting the children of any type of mixed marriage into the Zarathushtrian Religion is too wellknown to require further comment.]
(5) In religion, nothing stands higher than the sanctity of the scriptures, and there is nothing weird or "ultra-conservative" in respecting scriptural injunctions and trying to follow them as faithfully as one possibly can. For the Parsis, whose righteous ancestors fled their ancient homeland for the whole and sole purpose of preserving the Religion of Zarathushtra and not for any materialistic or hedonistic motives, this is a covenanted trust - all of us, and especially our priests, are but trustee-custodians of this solemn legacy. The first and last resource of the Parsi people is their Holy Writ.
(6) By the very same token, although intermarriages are certainly not condoned in the Zarathushtrian Religion, in all fairness it must be noted that not a single one of the various injunctions in our scriptural and religious texts mentions "excommunication" or any such earthly penalty (as against certain explicit mentions of after-death penalty for the soul on the "Judgment Bridge" or at the "end of things"), for intermarried Parsi men or women themselves.
[NOTE: This is the position in the sacred texts of the Zarathushtrian Religion. Hence, the matter of intermarried men as well as women (born of Parsi/Irani Zarathushtrian parents, confirmed by Navjote, and not having renounced their religion) remaining Zarathushtrians throughout their own lifetimes, with normal religious rights, should be favourably considered.]
(7) While the children of intermarried Parsis should never be demeaned, embarrassed or ostracized in any way in any non-religious sphere of life, the line of nonacceptance has to be drawn without fear or favour insofar as the Zarathushtrian Religion is concerned.
[NOTE: As indicated, there are tenable religious grounds (and esoteric ones too) for intermarried Parsis of either sex to enjoy formal membership of the Zarathushtrian Religion for the duration of their own lifetimes. But no such grounds whatsoever obtain for their progenies and spouses.]
(8) Individual interest and retrospective attempts to justify unsanctioned actions must not override the mandates of our scriptures or undermine the undoubted right of our community to preserve its priceless Ethno-Religious Identity for posterity. No race can be denied the right to its self-preservation.
(9) The sacred texts and laws of the Zarathushtrian Religion must command our first and foremost allegiance. Across thousands of years of trial and travail, our first and foremost thought and endeavour has been to preserve them, whatever the cost. They are our first and foremost treasure. Indeed, they are nothing less than our timeless and time-tested raison d'être. If we fail to respect these Religious Laws with faith, discipline and humility, we do not deserve to survive and shall surely cease to exist.
Roni K. Khan
Ahunavad/Spendarmad 1364 A.Y. 18 August 1995 A.C.
[Slightly revised from the original published in The Jam-e-Jamshed Weekly of 03 September 1995.]
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