From: "Mehernosh Fitter"
Date: Tue Dec 4, 2001 12:10 am
Subject: Doongerwadi Controversy.



It is contended that every Zoroastrian has the right to choose the method of disposal of his last remains. Nobody disputes this right, but whilst exercising such a right, he cannot insist upon the use of the Doongerwadi facilities for the said purpose, if the body is not consigned to the Dokhmas. If the relevant Trust Deed in respect of the Doongerwadi property does not permit this, as is so amply elaborated with congent reasoning in several opinions and articles written by Messrs. Eruch Desai, Bomi Zaiwala and others, then he or his family members cannot force the Trustees to allow them to avail of such facilities. It is abundantly clear that the intention of settlors in setting up the Doongerwadi property and constructing bunglis thereon was meant only for those who adopt the Dokhmaneshini system for the disposal of the dead. Here it may not be out of place to point out that even in the past, quite a powerful section of the community agitated for a crematorium at the Doongerwadi, which was rightly registered by the then Trustees. In all probablity, that section did not take the matter further because they must have been advised by their lawyers that the Doongerwadi property and the facilities thereat including the normal four-days obsequities are meant only for the disposal of the dead through the system of Dokhmenashini and through no other method. That section was also as powerful as the members of the DDG-AG.

It is also contended that not a single vulture remains in the vicinity of the Dokhmas and as such bodies lie exposed for a considerable length of time which is not to the liking of the DDG-AG. If it is not to the liking of the DDG-AG, then they are free to choose any alternative method of disposal elsewhere, as some have been doing upto now, but not on Doongerwadi property, which was set up, nutured, expanded and enjoined in Trust, only for the disposal of the dead through Dokhmenashini, as the very size of the property clearly shows. It is pertinent that in spite of this alleged state of affairs and assuming that it so exists in spite of the solar consentrators still a majority of the community, more than 90% prefer to follow the Dokhmenashini system. It may be worth noting that the DDG-AG have in their writings submitted a figure of 18 cremations this year as versus over 700 bodies consigned to the Dokhmas over the same period of time. A loquacious minority certainly cannot cajole the silent majority into submission on a threat of litigation and approach the powers-that-be. It is pertinent that even assuming that such a state of affairs exists, there has been no health hazard upto now, and there is no perceivable health hazard, no responsible authority would intervene in the matter so long as there is the rule of law in the country. Curiously, if the BPP Trustees give in to the demand of the DDG-AG for a prayer hall in the environs of the dakhma, then there is no perceived health hazard as alleged by the DDG-AG? However, if the BPP Trustees take a principal stand and not bow down to the DDG-AG pressure tactics, and give in to them, then the mode of Dokhmenashini, in the eyes of the DDG-AG suddenly becomes a health hazard for all. Is this not a case of double standards shown by the DDG-AG? Even in the past, with the presence of some vultures,, the state of affairs could not be much better than what it is today and in spite of knowing this, a large majority of the community still preferred to follow the time-tested religious system of Dokhmenashini for the disposal of the dead.

The demand of the DDG-AG has now been scaled down to the use of the bunglis for Uthamna and Sarosh prayers for those Zoroastrians who opt for alternative methods of disposal on the basis that every Zoroastrian is entitled to, as per the scriptures and as per the Doongerwadi Trust deed. Articles have appeared in the press quoting eminent lawyers' opinions supported by the High Priests' views on crucial religious aspects that no such prayers can be recited at the Doongerwadi. Again, why insist upon the Doongerwadi property for such prayers if the same could also be recited elsewhere as is being hitherto done, for those who opt for an alternative method of disposal. Incidentally, the scaling down of the demand for the use of the bunglis for the above prayers postulates the continuance of the present method of the disposal of the death through Dokhmenashini for those who opt for the same. How is this consistent with the pleas of the DDG-AG as to the alleged health hazard and the so-called ungainly sight of the dead bodies lying for a considerable length of time which is the main grouse of the DDG-AG? Will this disappear by the BPP Trustees giving in to the demands of the DDG-AG by building a special prayer hall for the recitation of such prayers? It is for the readers to judge.

The threat hurled by the DDG-AG is that in the court proceedings, the relevant photographs which were taken prior to the solar concentrator system, would be produced and the court would then take a very unfavourable view of the matter. In either event, the matter will go to the court in which case, the DDG-AG is likely to exhibit the photographs to support its point of view. As stated above, no responsible authority and not even the cours of law are likely to take cognizance of such a state of affairs unless it actually creates a health hazard, which experience has shown it does not. If, because of such a threat levied by the DDG-AG, the Trustees choose to give in, then where was the need to undergo the rigmarole of obtaining Councel's opinion on the intepretation of the Trust Deed even after they became aware of such photographs before the matter was reffered to the councel for opinion? No such threat should deter the powers-that-be from going against the provisions of the Trust Deed and the tenets of the religion.

With particularrference to the demand for other ceremonies like Uthamna, Sarosh, etc., being performed after a corpse is disposed off, here again the legal issue is whether the Trust Deed permits the same being done. This comprises of both a religious and legal aspect and the learned councel for the BPP has said that only such ceremonies should be performed at the Doongerwadi which are in accordance with the tenets of the Zoroastrian religion. All the High Priests have stated that even these 4-days obsequies cannot be performed for those who opt for alternate methods of disposal when the mode of Dokhmenashini is available, then no such facility can be made available at the Doongerwadi property as per the intentions of the settlers and indeed the relevant provision of the Trust Deed as it is antithetical to the precepts and practices of the Zoroastrian religion.

The DDG-AG have said "our scriptures forbid the pollution of water with putrefying matter. Therefore, during the monsoons, leaving corpses to lie in the rain violates the provision of our scriptures."

The yearly monsoon rains, by way of a natural phenomenon, have always fallen on the corpses consigned to the Dokhmas. This rain has always fallen on corpses even when there was an inexhaustable supply of birds of prey, including the vultures. For the DDG-AG to suggest that rain water falling on corpses "...violates the provision of the scriptures..." is quite erroneous and has nothing to do with the "functioning" of the Dakhmas. Importantly, the scriptures do not permit any Zoroastrian from willfully burning or drowning the corpse in flowing water, this is very different to rain water falling naturally upon a decomposing body, consigned to the Dokhma, as is the case in Mumbai. It is these sorts of twists and wordplay that should make the reader s question the real motives and hidden agenda of the DDG-AG who appear to show an utter disregard to following the scriptures.

The DDG-AG refers to the physical and spiritual worlds pertaining to man. The issue of a soul ceasing to be a Zoroastrian does not apply in the DDG-AG's example. A Zoroastrian, even when alive, has the choice to follow and practice the precepts and practices of the faith, with the soul being made accountable at the "Bridge of The Separator". If by choice, when alive, one chooses to opt out of the existing and available mode of disposal for the dead which is prescribed religiously and endorsed by the High Priests in India, then it follows then one is breaking an important religious injuction which has been followed and continues to be followed by hundreds of Zoroastrians, annually. If the 4-days obsequies are important and meaningful, then is it not better for the DDG-AG to accept this position and follow what the overwhelming majority of the community accepts, rather than go off at a tangent for what is clearly wrong, religiously?

Moreover, rather than asking the High Priests to give scriptural references for their religious position, should not the DDG-AG who wish to contravene the existing mode of disposal of the dead, submit their scriptural references to show clearly that what they want to do, is religiously in consonance with the beliefs and practices of the faith? After all, despite adverse press reporting on the state of the Dokhmas, a huge majority have followed and are following what the High Priests have opinedand which also carries the weight of custom and usage as embedded in the Zoroastrian faith. However, what the DDG-AG seeks to do, has no precedent in India, where the Dokhmas exist and are actively used for the disposal of Zoroastrians who have died.

How odd that the DDG-AG seeks to justify its demand by disregarding the voice of the High Priests and yet they quote in bold, Dastur Dr. Firoze Kotwal's opinion on the wrong use of solar concentrators, when it suits them. There is something very hypocritical about the DDG-AG position. They plead for a few prayer facilities in a new prayer hall in the very environs of the dakhmas, which they have argued in the past, to be a grave health hazard, yet now they want to bring their near and dar ones to the very area which they should stay away from, if indeed , it poses to be a health hazard to them. If the location for the prayers to be said is important, then surely they should follow the existing religious system and enjoy the right given to them in the Trust Deed. If, on the other hand, the DDG-AG wishes to opt out of the mode of disposal of the dead as available at Doongerwadi, then the prayers can be said elsewhere, where there is no infringement from a legal nor religious point of view. After all, the prayers are required for the well-being of the soul and, therefore, to demand prayer facilities within the environs of the Doongerwadi complex and its lands is meaningless unless if there is a hidden agenda which is not being revealed to the community?

With regard to the opposition to setting up of an aviary on the grounds that such a capital expenditure is not justified, apart from the annual maintainance costs which they claim to be prohibitive, is there a factor to be taken into consideration to decide on such a grave issue affecting the very tenets of the religion? As it is, lakhs of Rupees a year are being spent to date, to maintain the Doongerwadi property. Should a sum to the tune of Rs. 2.5 crores by way of capital expenditure be a deterrent to the BPP Trustees to uphold our religious rites, tenets and customs, in order to preserve what our illustrious ancestors left their homeland for, a thousand years ago? Further, even if such expenses are not incurred to set up an aviary, would the problem of some of the Parsis begging outside wedding and Navjote halls, Agiaries and Atash Behrams as pointed out by the DDG-AG disappear? Can anyone guarantee this?

The SDAC strongly urges the esteemed readership of Jame not to fall victim to what is clothed in an innocuous plea, stating that all the DDG-AG are now asking for, are prayers to be recited for the dead in the environs of Doongerwadi. If the DDG-AG want pryers for the dead, then our SDAC answer is to follow the existing system for the disposal of the dead, in which case "your fervent plea" will be fulfilled.

We hope that the BPP trustees armed with their counsel's opinion and those of other learned men will do what is in consonance with the religion and stand firm against the questionable intentions and demand of the DDG-AG. Let history judge the trustees of the BPP to be persons who have taken the right decision based upon principals for the greater good of the majority of the community.

-Hoshang Wania.
Save Doongerwadi Action Committee (SDAC).

Typed by Mr. Mehernosh Fitter. Member of Save Doongerwadi Action Committee.
Request for circulation among Parsis, Zoroastrians, and Iranians only.

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