NCM Member Kersi Deboo Discusses Important Community Issues

The offices of Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe were the apt location for respected members of the community to meet with Kersi Kaikhushroo Deboo – Member of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) representing the Parsi/Irani Zoroastrian community in India, to discuss issues that were of prime concern to the community. Eminent community personalities also present included Advocate Burjor Antia, Advocate Neville Deboo, Dinshaw Tamboly – Chairman – WZO Trusts, Er. Dr. Ramiyar Parvez Karanjia – Principal of the Dadar Athornan Institute; Hoshaang Gotla – Founder, XYZ; Mr. Daruwalla and representatives of the Parsi press.

Kersi Deboo addressed all present and said that as a Member of the National Commission for Minorities representing the Zoroastrians, his prime focus would be on addressing the following three issues:

  • Protecting and securing properties/lands – owned by various Paris Trusts – from encroachment;
  • Getting Reservations for Parsi students in Parsi-endowed Schools, Colleges and Universities; and
  • Concerns of the dwindling population of Zoroastrians

He spoke of land parcels in Kudiana, Diu and Bhagwa Gam, in Gujarat, which were facing issues of encroachment.  As our sacred Doongerwadi lands in Kudiana, Surat, face the threat of possible encroachment, Kersi Deboo is working towards defining the boundary and fencing the same, in order to protect the same.

He shared that his aim was to demand at least 2 seats to be reserved for Parsis in the institutions that have been endowed by Parsis, like The Grant Medical College and Sir JJ School of Art and Architecture, among others. He gave examples of how a seat has been reserved for Parsis in the Anand Agricultural university, under the Modi administration, in Gujarat.

Currently, only those institutions which have been established and administered by Parsis are allowed to have reservation of seats. Moreover, the situation is exacerbated as only 14 institutions have actually even applied for Minority Status, one of which includes the Vibgyor School. On the flip side, there are institutions which offer reservations for Parsis but the seats are not utilized, as most are unaware or students don’t find the institutions prestigious. A case in point is the Sorabji Burjorji Garda College Trust (Navsāri, India) which conducts courses in Law, Science and Commerce and educates 6,000 students but has barely 10 Parsis attending the same!

Kersi Deboo addressed the main problem facing the community – that of our dwindling population. Despite Jiyo Parsi’s initiatives, our current numbers amount to only 0.006 per cent of the total population of India. Responding to this, Advocate Burjor Antia suggested that the youth should be encouraged to feel a sense of bonding with the community, be willing to, “live and die for my community,” as their aim. In the same vein, concern for building the population should be a matter that needs to be addressed by the community, rather than the Minority Commission.

Dinshaw Tamboly also voiced his concerns about the declining population. He said that while the Jiyo Parsi initiative was doing its best, with approximately 310 children being born in the community, as a result of that scheme, our current reproduction rate is at 0.8, but it needs to be at 2.1 for the population to remain stable. He added, “if such measures had been taken about 70 years ago, we would not be facing this situation today.”

He also voiced that a major impediment to the community members having more children was the issue of poverty, which is especially prevalent in cities, other than Mumbai. Even a person earning a monthly salary of Rs. 1 lakh had a host of dependents like elderly parents, etc. This income constraints restrain them from having more children. He also raised the issue of Parsi youth developing the attitude of entitlement when it came to charity and the community trusts providing for them. They displayed no ‘fire in the belly’ to do things on their own.

Er. Dr. Ramiyar Parvez Karanjia placed before Kersi Deboo some pertinent issues that were impacting the priests in our community, as under:

  • Not many children were attending the Madresa, despite all facilities being given free of cost, including school education and tuitions. On an average, the Madresa spends Rs. 1.5 lakh per child, per year.
  • A corpus fund was needed to be created to finance the Madresas and the priests
  • Mobeds were not being absorbed into the Agiaries. Religious service was considered a last resort job for them, as the salary is a maximum of Rs. 40,000 and they would earn more lucrative salaries in the corporate world. Only one out of 15 of those who graduated, became full-time Mobeds.

Er. Karanjia also suggested that we should encourage our youth to focus on ‘Mother, Father, God and Community.’ Our motto should be ‘Maru Dharam ne Mari Kaum.’ To this, Adv. Antia added, “No Priest, No Parsi!”

Given his rich experience with the young tots and the youth of our community, Hoshang Gotla shared his observation as Trustee of Alexandra Girls School, where barely 30 Parsi girls were enrolled, as opposed to Ava Bai Petit School in Bandra, which bad almost 200 girl students. He explained this was mainly because Parsis do not wish to opt for SSC (State level) education. He said that most Parsi parents were seeking aspirational education for their kids by way of IB and IGCSE level schools. One way of encouraging Paris to attend schools set up by the community would be to help such schools transition to IB or other education boards. Another option could be to have Parsi schools tie up with renowned colleges and reserve seats for Parsi students.

Advocate Neville Deboo, who has been ably supporting Kersi Deboo in his initiatives for the community, explained that they were willing to put every effort to ensure that our lands and trust properties were protected. However, he added that the need of the hour was for our trusts to file for the renewal of their ‘12AA’, which provides exemption from taxation for such charitable organisations. He added many trusts could be unaware that their ‘12AA’ was about to lapse and this would result in them having to pay punitive taxes, like capital gains tax, on the lands they own.

It was suggested that a Central Agency for Parsi Trusts and lands should be established which would be able to monitor these details. Such an agency would also work towards keeping defunct lands being taken over by government agencies. An example was cited, where a trust’s land in Valsad, Gujarat, has been taken over and a municipal school was built there. Advocate Antia suggested that some of these lands could be monetized and the funds could be used to benefit the community. Dinshaw Tamboly also recommended that a Parsi seat in the Rajya Sabha would help give a stronger voice to the community.

These insightful and visionary insights during the course of the meeting have certainly given much food for thought for Kersi Deboo as he serves as the Zoroastrian representative at the National Minorities Commission.

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