Despite the indispensable role of Mobeds in the religious sustenance of the Parsi community, the vocation has been on the downslide, with reducing numbers opting for it. Past efforts to rectify the situation haven’t yielded the desired results. Reinforcing its efforts to resolve this situation, the Athornan Mandal convened a meeting on 8th October, 2023, at Banaji Atash Behram Hall, where trustees and Panthakies of Mumbai’s Agiaries and Atash Behrams were invited to provide their insights about this issue. Trustees of Empowering Mobeds Trust, BPP and other community influencers were also invited, to unitedly brainstorm towards finding a solution and move ahead collectively.
Chaired by Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor of Udvada and compered by Karl Sahukar, trustee – Empowering Mobeds Trust, the meeting sought to address the urgent shortage of mobeds, seeing how only one new student had enrolled in the Athornan Madressa during the year, bringing the total number of students to a mere 14. (Mumbai had about 15 mobeds performing Pav Mahel kriyas and the overall number in India was about 19.)
Dasturji Khurshed pointed out the immediate need to increase the number of full-time mobeds, encourage Athornan families to enroll their sons for training, engage with Athornan graduates to ensure they continued practicing Mobedi and the importance of funding for the success of these initiatives. He further stressed that the future of the community was at stake with only 20 of the 50 Agairies in Mumbai getting regular visitors, while other 20 were getting fewer footfalls and the rest simply languishing.
In a video message, Vada Dasturji Dr. Firoze M. Kotwal shared several significant points, like the need to ingrain the idea of Mobedi from childhood; how a child’s character building and moral courage was as important as his knowledge of rites and rituals and the equal importance of physical and mental strength for performing high rituals. In another video message, Khojeste Mistree suggested setting up communication channels with the priestly class to understand their aversion to entering the vocation. He voiced that Mobeds needed to be provided with better benefits and called for a review of the Madressa’s educational methods.
Vada Dasturji Keki C. Ravji Meherjirana urged the community to give mobeds a fair chance. He lamented despite doing mobedi for over 62 years, he was still not eligible for any pension or post-retirement benefits and this situation needed to change.
BPP trustee Anahita Desai pointed out the need for unity despite ideological differences. She felt that the failure of all efforts called for a structured plan as also a professionally conducted survey. Ex-BPP trustee Jimmy Mistry shared that his Parsi Resource Group, which was working with mobeds since 2005, had created an extensive database of mobeds and there was a need to address core issues like appropriate salaries and job security. He felt a yearly corpus of ₹ 3 crore would be required to proceed on a war footing to address immediate needs, and a fund of ₹ 250-300 crore to support future mobeds, to be partly financed by donations from wealthy individuals and partly from monetization of properties.
Er. Meher Mody of Empowering Mobeds Trust shared current statistics: only 68 part time mobeds and only 19 full-time mobeds performing higher liturgies, all above age 45. Er. Zerick Dastoor, trustee of H. B Wadia Atash Behram and Cama Convalescent Home rightly pointed out that the responsibility lay with the entire community to resolve this issue. One solution would be to increase footfall in Agiaries and Atash Behrams, via ‘Respect, Recognition and Role Models’ for the mobeds, alongside financial and medical support.
Kersi Limathwalla, trustee of M J Wadia Adaran felt that the problem was parents not wanting their children to follow their Mobedi profession due to economic and social issues. He suggested augmenting resources of Agiaries for better management, equipping mobeds with other skills and more Agiaries holding dharmagyan classes. Er. Dr. Parvez Bajan, Panthaki of Mewawala Agiary, wished for increase in footfalls in the Agiary and said the home played a strong role in this. Maneck Dastur of K M Dastur Reinsurance Brokers informed the gathering about the availability of a special Mediclaim policy to cover elders and of Group Mediclaim Insurance Policy, where those financially unable to pay, would be exempt.
Community activist Hanoz Mistry stated that Mobedi was to be treated as a vocation, not a profession. Its importance and passion needed to be inculcated from childhood and not enforced. He felt students of the Athornan Madressa should focus mainly on Mobedi studies and rituals and not be distracted with extra-curricular activities. He said in return for support and financing, mobeds would also be required to promise deliverables in terms of proper and full recitation of prayers and not truncating rituals and ceremonies.
Noshir Dadrawala, ex-BPP trustee emphasized that the importance of economics could not be overlooked when considering the overall improvement of mobeds and it was time to bring reform and take hard decisions. Hoshaang Gotla, Founder – XYZ suggested forming groups of youngsters who would adopt Agiaries in an area to ensure regular interaction which would increase footfalls.
Suggestions by other speakers including Er. Kerman Fatakia, Er. Parvez Karanjia and Er. Shirzad Pavri, which included parents also playing an active role in m maintaining the discipline of madressa life when the children were home on vacation; taking hard decisions like moving fires from Agiaries which were languishing, to other locations; a scheme for ameliorating the conditions of Pav Mahel mobeds; having a Mobed on the board of Agiary Trusts; Monetising unused properties to create a corpus for welfare of mobeds; and merging fires which were in languishing Agiaries (This suggestion was politely negated by Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor).
WZO Trust Funds Chairman – Dinshaw Tamboly also stressed on the need to monetise unused assets and move languishing fires to existing Agiaries, to enable worship. Er. Darius Bajan felt the dwindling number of community members, on account of migration and intermarriage, could be harnessed if mobeds became a part of the lives of the laity as their friend, philosopher and guide. He was in favour of monetizing disused properties and moving fires to more appropriate locations.
The meeting ended with Dasturji Khurshed assuring the attendees that all their suggestions would be given due consideration and action plans would be put in place. The meeting ended with lunch catered by Jimmy Gadiwala.
(Courtesy: Hanoz M. Mistry)