Right is Might

The idiom, ‘might is right’ has been proven wrong by many revolutionary leaders and activists throughout history. A minority of two trustees on the Board of the three hundred and fifty-one-years old Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) also proved this idiom wrong, on 20th October, 2021.

Globally, nationally or at BPP, sometimes power goes to the head and those who are powerful or in majority, come to think and believe that they can do as they please to, unchallenged, even if their action is illegal, unethical, immoral or unjustified.

My colleague trustee, Kersi Randeria and I demanded that elections for the two vacant seats on the seven-member Board of BPP should be held by December 2021, so that a full Board of seven trustees can start functioning at the start of year 2022. Instead, just the Chairman (exercising her casting vote) and one trustee (Viraf Dinshaw Mehta) passed a Resolution on 12th October, 2021 that the elections be postponed to October 2022! This was unbelievably unacceptable!

Right Reaction to Wrong Action: We have all known since school days, Newton’s Third Law of motion – “Every Action has an equal and opposite Reaction”! The absolutely illegal, unethical, immoral and unacceptable motion passed on part of the two trustees called for an equal and opposite Reaction. The result of the Reaction, in my opinion, has been better than expected. Although pushed to March 2022, the trustees now have unanimously agreed to hold elections for all seven seats instead of just two seats. The current Board had been losing credibility and all needed to resign!

The Genesis: Under the High Court framed Scheme of Elections, the funds, assets and properties of the BPP must be governed by a duly elected Board of Seven Trustees. The scheme mandates that any vacancy on the Board by death or by resignation must be filled within a period of ninety days.

BPP Trustee, Zarir Bhathena expired on 24th June, 2021. Elections could not be held to fill his vacancy and an order was obtained from the High Court to postpone elections to fill this vacancy by six months. In the meantime, on 23rd December, 2021, Chairman Yazdi Desai tendered his resignation after suffering a massive stroke.

Now two vacancies had to be filled and the Board of five trustees unanimously declared the date of elections as 14th March 2021.

However, on 9th March, 2021, three trustees by majority, and to the utter disbelief and disappointment of the community, decided to postpone the elections because they allegedly were “concerned about the safety of senior citizens”. This of course was only a lame excuse to delay elections.

On 20th and 21st March (a week after the proposed date of elections) there was no lockdown and senior citizens were out in large numbers celebrating Jamshedi Navroz! All places of worship, restaurants and clubs were packed with senior citizens with walkers and walking sticks from early morning till late night.

The lockdown was imposed much later. When the lockdown was eased, new excuses were invented like ‘no elections till everyone is vaccinated’. When all covid related excuses were exhausted, clever, new ploys were deployed to delay elections. Suddenly reducing term of office from seven to five years became a matter of grave concern and urgency.

One must note that reducing term of office was not such a matter of grave importance or urgency in March or June 2021. Clearly when the majority on the BPP Board and external power brokers ran out of covid related excuses, like the covid virus, the excuses were mutated and new strains from alpha and beta to theta and omega were unleased.

Going to court for any amendment of the scheme meant waste of several months and delay in conducting elections for the two vacant seats. To cut a long story short, it became apparent that the three trustees in majority were comfortable in their majority and did not wish to unsettle their ‘cozy nest’.

Revolutionary Reaction: From the night of 12th October to that of 15th October, my colleague, Kersi Randeria, and I pondered over our helplessness as elected trustees. I remember winning the elections with the highest number of votes in October 2015. What was passed on 12th October, 2021 was fundamentally WRONG. My resigning on account of the immoral and illegal action was mocked and seen as an opportunity for the majority on the Board to feel and become even more strengthened.

Even four days after this wrong action by just two trustees, the community seemed silent and indifferent. We knew that something drastic and revolutionary had to be done to awaken the collective conscience of the community who had voted for the trustees.

Fasting As Means Of Protest: Friday, 15th October, 2021, was Dussehra – the day celebrating the victory of right over wrong. We kept reflecting on how to right the wrong at BPP. I found a reference to fasting as a means of persuasion in the Ramayana, when Ram left for exile and his brother Bharat tried stopping him saying he would fast-unto-death unless Ram changed his mind. Ram had dissuaded Bharat by citing the Shastras. Centuries later, Jatin Das and Bhagat Singh undertook one of the longest fasts in history, for 116 days, in order to improve conditions in which prisoners were held in India. It ended with Jatin Das’ death from starvation in September 1929. The wave of public sympathy set off by his hunger strike forced British jailers to concede some demands for improving the living conditions of prisoners.

Thus, fasting as a means of political protest, is an age-old practice. Mahatma Gandhi often said, “Fasting is a potent weapon in the satyagraha armoury.” He himself used it to great effect.

That was it. Kersi and I decided to go on a hunger fast from Monday 18th October, 2021. Detractors called it ‘drama’, some called it ‘emotional black mail’ but most people realized that we were sincere. Our reaction to the wrong action was selfless. We could have decided to simply record our dissent and accept the wrong. But that would have left me emotionally distressed. I would have seen myself as a failure in discharging my role as trustee to right the wrong.

Overwhelming Response: The community that seemed silent till Sunday, 17th October, 2021 suddenly woke up on the 18th, as I undertook this exercise for the first time in my sixty years of life. Detractors said I would be put on saline by Monday afternoon. They did not realize that our hunger to right the wrong was greater than our hunger for food and we held on to my fast strictly and with sincerity.

Hemal Ashar wrote in Midday newspaper: “In Bollywood, we have actors earning the label of ‘angry young man’, in BPP we may now have the ‘angry and hungry man’.” I agree I was angry. Angry about the wrong action and even more angry with my state of helplessness on the Board. I was, I am hungry and will always remain hungry. Not for power or for position, but – and I speak for Kersi too here – for justice and restoring democracy, equity and good governance on the BPP Board.

I am delighted that the silent community woke up. 353 Parsis came to the BPP office and signed the petition in person. Those who came included doctors, lawyers and many even drove down from out of Mumbai to stand in solidarity.

2,651 signed the online petition.

Trustee Kersi Randeria and a few others who joined me in fasting from food were a huge moral support. I thank all those who stood in solidarity with the cause.

Stay Alert And Awake: I am glad that after several rounds of discussion which left me more exhausted than my abstinence from food, all five trustees came to a common agreement. I see hope where there was earlier complete helplessness.

A battle has been won. But the war is far from over. The community needs to stay awake and ensure that their trust is not shortchanged again. The community’s trust in the trustees should not betrayed ever again!

What is Right is truly Might and Might is derived from honesty of purpose and discharge of duty with integrity.

Noshir H. Dadrawala
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