The Doongerwadi Imbroglio; My Personal Position Explained. - Dinshaw Kaiki Tamboly
Tamboly: I am informed that at the meeting arranged by Save Doongerwadi Action Committee (SDAC) on December 28, 2001, the Trustees of Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) were the target of vituperative criticism for having decided to allow the construction of a prayer hall at Ambawadi on the Doongerwadi property, to be used for post funeral ceremonies of those not opting for consignment by the traditional system of Dokhmenashini.
(Noshir reponds: SDAC and the community believes in giving out bouquets when the trustees deserve it and brick bats when compelled to do so. This is Universal and Natural. This is the price we all pay for being in public life. But as an American Presedent once said, “if it gets too hot in the kitchen get out of it”).
Tamboly: It is human nature to be suspicious whenever changes alterations or additions are introduced to a long-standing tradition. The initial reaction is always to offer resistance to change.
(Noshir reponds: It is not “suspicion”. It is “looking ahead”. Today we may compromise with a “bungli” what next in the decades to come? As Shakespeare would have put it:
“These growing feathers pluck'd from DDD-AG's wing Will make them fly an ordinary pitch, Who else would soar above the view of men And keep us all in servile fearfulness”.
Noshir continues: This is not resistance to change. But opposition to something that is fundamentally wrong.”)
Tamboly: For those occupying positions of responsibility, it is incumbent to decide issues based on hard facts, and not on sentiments. For those who enjoy the luxury of not being responsible for consequences arising out of their utterances, it is very easy to criticise decisions taken, without understanding or realising the thought process involved or the comprehension of complex consequences that could arise.
(Noshir reponds: The devout members of the Parsi community hold a greater responsibility as “beneficiaries, present and future” than trustees who are managers/custodians of the trust property for a limited tenure. You must be aware of Vox Populi!)
Tamboly: If matters such as the issue in question goes to court as has been informed, arguments will have to be substantiated with valid facts, not emotions or sentiments.
(Noshir reponds: I wish you were present at the various meeting including the last one to gauge the facts.)
Tamboly: It is not that as a community we have earlier on not made any changes to our religious customs / traditions. Those honest with them-selves will agree that the list is quite long.
(Noshir reponds: I agree we have made changes in the past and always with disastrous after effects. The BPP compromised in 1906 that we are a patriarchal society and therefore children of Parsi fathers by non-Parsi mothers may be accepted in the fold. This was at a time when Parsi women were not even dreaming of inter-marriages. Today Parsi women are arguing on the basis of gender inequality. A price we are paying for a compromise made in 1906)
Tamboly: The issue in question has been agitating the minds of many Zoroastrians. It has thus become essential for me to make public the rationale that made me opt for allowing the proposal of Disposal of the Dead with Dignity – Action Group (DDD-AG) for the construction of a prayer hall at Ambawadi on the Doongerwadi property.
Tamboly: Both SDAC and DDD-AG are looking at the issue from their own perspectives. The SDAC has based their stand on sentiments and spiritual aspects, whereas DDD-AG has done so on worldly, legal and practical aspects.
(Noshir reponds: CORRECTION! SDAC has based it’s stand on:
1) long standing custom and usage which indeed has the force of law; 2) The Opinion of religious experts particularly ALL THE HIGH PRIESTS 3) The mandate of an overwhelming majority of the community
Noshir continues: DDD-AG on the other hand has based it’s stand on Cussedness and bullying tactics.)
Tamboly: As a sitting Trustee, I am expected to analyse issues in totality and consider the viewpoints expressed by both sides. Only after taking all factors into consideration, I have taken a stand that, in my opinion, is in the larger interest of the community, likely to cause the least possible impairment.
(Noshir reponds: You are welcome to make your own analysis and arrive at your own conclusions. As your friend, however, I can only caution you against perhaps unknowingly, doing something irreligious. We have argued this in the past. And you have always been worried that DDD-AG will take the matter to court. What makes you think SDAC will not, if BPP buckles. The truth is, and face it my friend, that you would rather have SDAC go to court than DDD-AG.)
Tamboly: As a sitting Trustee I carry the burden of having to consider issues objectively, based on hard facts. I do not enjoy the luxury of evaluating issues on emotion or sentiment.
(Noshir reponds: Good. The hard facts are:1) you are about to change a 350 years old usage (having the force of law) 2) you are implementing a religious change against the mandate of ALL the High Priests 3) you are ignoring the mandate of a large section of the community)
Tamboly: I have taken the following factors into consideration whilst analysing the issue and formulating my stand in the matter:
Tamboly: 1. The Towers of Silence were built over 300 years ago, whereas the bunglis were built as a matter of convenience for mourners, around 60 to 70 years ago. Before that time, all dead bodies were taken to the Towers of Silence from the residences of the deceased, which system is still prevalent in some other cities.
(Noshir reponds: Have you really read the legal opinions of Bomi Zaiwala, Eruch Deasai and Rafiq Dada?)
Tamboly: No scriptural references have been provided that a prayer hall has any religious significance. Since no religion is involved, and prayer halls are a matter of convenience, members of the DDD-AG, also being Zoroastrians, strongly feel that they too enjoy the right to be provided the facility of a prayer hall.
(Noshir reponds: Your statement, more so as a rational man, is a contradiction. Prayers are an integral part of religion. But if as you claim, “no religion is involved” and “prayer halls are a matter of convenience” where is need for further argument. DDD-AG may as well have ceremonies performed at the Taj ballroom in air conditioned comfort.)
Tamboly: 2. The decision was not taken in isolation. Various legal opinions have been obtained / received from a wide spectrum of impartial legal luminaries on the legal aspect whether it would be permissible to construct a prayer hall on the Doongerwadi estate and make the same available for post funeral prayers of those not opting for disposal by the traditional method of Dokhmenashini. Majority of the legal opinions received upholds the viewpoints of DDD-AG.
(Noshir reponds: Please state the exact number of opinions received and from whome?)
Tamboly: 3. The prelates, clergy and scholars have given their points of view, based mainly on prevailing customs and continuity of tradition. Some references from scriptures have also been given. However in the very scriptures from which they have referred, there are other religious injunctions that have already been compromised without any protest, and rightly so, since it is not possible to adhere to them in the present day and age.
(Noshir reponds: Why don’t you take up these issues with the prelates? And do you seriously imply that it is not possible to adhere to the more than seven decades old usage of bunglis for only those who are consigned to the dokhmas?)
Tamboly: Viewed objectively, the same logic should apply to the present issue, which according to DDD-AG is not of a religious nature, whilst according to SDAC it is.
(Noshir reponds: How can DDD-AG say that performance of religious ceremonies (uthamna, Sarosh nu patru, chaharum) and prayers for the dead are not of a religious nature? Has cussedness blinded them or made them mad? Beware, it appears to be infectious.)
Tamboly: The system of dokhmenashini, as it is presently functioning, is a dilution of the system as was practised in the days of yore. This is clear if one reads the injunctions in the Vendidad.
(Noshir reponds: Please be more specific!)
Tamboly: While objections are raised to allowing a prayer hall to be constructed for the post funeral prayers of those not opting for disposal through the system of dokhmenashini, can justification be given, why some other religious injunctions have been compromised without any protest?
(Noshir reponds: Please do not mix issues in defence of your friends at DDD-AG. As a “rational man” please take one issue at a time and avoid fudging).
Tamboly: Can any justification be provided of why the system of dokhmenashini has been diluted from what it originally was?
(Noshir reponds: Please explain “dilution”!!! And what happened to your solemn oath of defending dokhmenashini? I guess you will say you are defending it by placating DDD-AG and preventing them from going to court. Am I right?)
Tamboly: 4. Nowhere in the Trust Deed is it provided that religious rites and ceremonies of a dead Zoroastrian cannot be performed on the said lands unless the Tower of Silence for the exposure of such dead is to be used. I was informed that, legally, what is not prohibited could be presumed to be permitted.
(Noshir reponds: Since when have you become a legal expert? But put your hand on your heart and ask your self just one simple question: “When the trust deed was executed did the then trustees even remotely dream that the sacred doongerwadi property will be used for ceremonies and prayers for those who choose to be cremated or buried?)
Tamboly: 5. The members of DDD-AG, many of who are legal luminaries maintain that they are very sure of their legal position and are determined to move the courts for enforcement of what they believe to be their fundamental right as Zoroastrians.
(Noshir reponds: I have said this on the 28th. and I repeat it again, why are the trustees so scared to face DDD-AG in court? You do your “fundamental duty” to the community and religion and let DDD-AG persue it’s fundamental path of cussedness and destruction)
Tamboly: I feel this is not desirable, for should the matter go to court, a Pandora’s box will open and the end result can well be imagined.
(Noshir reponds: NO one wants to litigate. Least of all SDAC. But if push comes to shove, SDAC is ready. The best solution for DDD-AG is to find a plot of land in Mumbai and not just build a bungli but also a ‘state of the art’ crematorium. This would be the most “DIGNIFIED” course of action.)
Tamboly: Under section 438 of the Municipal Corporation Act the authorities have the power to close down any place for the disposal of the dead. These powers have been exercised in the case of:(i) Cemeteries No. 65, 67, 78, 85 & 87 in the compound of Haines Road, Cemetery; (ii) Hindu Koli Cemetery No. 33, at Dharavi Road, Mount Wadi, G-ward and Dhor Kakaya etc., Community Cemetery No. 70 at Dharavi Road, G-ward, Bombay; and (iii) The Hindu Cemetery situated in part of survey Nos. 95 & 100 and located behind building nos. 47 to 52 Subhash Nagar (Station Colony), Chembur, Bombay. (SOURCE: Nadir Modi and Dr. Homi Dhalla)
Tamboly: Can we risk the Doongerwadi being added to this list?
(Noshir reponds: Some of us have still not shaken off the “refugee mentality”.)
Tamboly: 6. In my analysis of the situation, I have also taken cognisance of the established legal fact that the laws of the land are superior to the mandate of the people.
(Noshir reponds: What is this “law of the land”. Have been seeing my fellow columnist Jehan Daruwala lately? This is his pet bogey! In my analysis “long standing custom and usage” has the force of law.)
Tamboly: As a sitting Trustee, being one of the custodians of the Funds & Properties of the Parsi Punchayet, my duty is clear-cut. It is fundamentally to safeguard the Doongerwadi estate, and by extension thereof the preservation of the system of Dokhmenashini.
(Noshir reponds: I am afraid you are not safeguarding but “liquidating” and “alienating” it for alien purposes.)
Tamboly: I therefore held the view that it was in the overall interest of the community to allow the construction of a prayer hall rather than risking the matter going to court the outcome of which could be disastrous.
(Noshir reponds: Either way, the risk of going to court is not eliminated. But as I said you would rather placate DDD-AG than see reason extended by SDAC, the High Priests and the devout members of the community.)
Tamboly: I am quite sure that my colleague Trustees who have agreed to allow the construction of a prayer hall at Ambawadi, which is far removed from the Towers of Silence would have reasoned in a similar manner in arriving at their own conclusion.
(Noshir reponds: The place at Ambawadi is closer to the towers than any of the existing bunglis. So much for facts.)
Tamboly: It has been my endeavour to place the issue in its proper perspective. To indulge in rhetoric and sway gullible individuals is the easiest thing to do. I do not subscribe to such tactics. To consider complex issues arrive at conclusions that are not popular in nature but based on hard facts and standing by such conclusions, however unpopular is quite another thing.
(Noshir reponds: You are welcome to your point of view. I can only argue and give reasons. You have to choose your own path!)
Tamboly: I can only reiterate that the conclusions that I have arrived at have been after giving due thought and considerations to all aspects of the issue and keeping in mind the overall interest of the community.
(Noshir reponds: But the tilt toward “change”, “reform” and DDD-AG is so palpable.)
Tamboly: The DDD-AG after discussions and dialogue with the Trustees, respecting the sentiments of a certain segment of the community, have already scaled down their original demands substantially. By having agreed to the decision taken to build a prayer hall for use by DDD-AG, it has been my fervent expectation that this vexatious issue would be resolved by accommodating diverse viewpoints, in a spirit of give & take, without tearing apart the fabric of the community, and inviting the intervention of the authorities to the detriment of the Doongerwadi estate and the system of Dokhmenashini. This would be in keeping with the true tradition of our community “Adapting For Survival”.
(Noshir reponds: You may call it “adapting for survival”. I call it “Compromising with something that is fundamentally wrong. Let’s say it is “BPP Adapting for DDD-AG’s survival”.)
Tamboly: I have not held any brief for either SDAC or DDD-AG. My involvement in the matter has been based on principles of conviction; my perception of my contribution is that I have acted without fear or favour in the best interest of safeguarding the Doongerwadi estate and preserving the system of Dokhmenashini.
(Noshir reponds: Do you sincerely think this compromise will preserve dokhmenashini? The writing is on the wall. Today a bungli, tomorrow a crematorium”)
Tamboly: I am sure that some will not agree with the rationale that has been spelt out. Irrespective of what individuals who do not agree with our line of thinking have to say, I am of the firm belief that by taking the decision that majority of my colleagues & I have taken, we have acted decisively in preserving the system of Dokhmenashini and safeguarding the Doongerwadi estate.
(Noshir reponds: You all have acted ‘decisively’ in placating DDD-AG and encouraging cremation through the back door. And all this in the face of a solemn affidavit sworn by all the trustees. But this is not the first time trustees have lied under oath. I have personal experience in this regard.)
Tamboly: For, it is finally we Trustees who are and will be held wholly accountable for the consequences.
(Noshir reponds: TRUE. Very true! And not just in this world. But the spiritual world as well.)
Tamboly: I appeal to those who are viewing and discussing this issue only on emotion and sentiment to include realities, hard facts and objectivity into their thinking.
(Noshir reponds: A very ‘emotional’ and ‘sentimental’ ‘appeal’, I must say. Please convey it to DDD-AG. On our behalf.Your friend and wellwisher Noshir H. Dadrawala)
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