Gautam Guha, Agami Kalarab: About 1300 years ago Persia (now Iran) was ruled by Fire worshippers who followed by Zend Avesta a holy book considered as second oldest book after Rig Veda. After the Victory of the battle of Ullais in 633AD Caliph Omar told to Parsis: “Submit to Islam or else you will have only yourself to blame for the consequences for I bring the men who desire the death as ardently as you desire life”.
In the last few years, the world has been grappling with the refugee crisis. The innovations in technology has made the whole experience of witnessing a crisis very visceral and we hadn’t encountered a crisis of this scale since World War II. However, it is undeniable that human history is centred around victories and conquering lands. And the present may not be too different- people losing lives or being displaced from their homelands.
In India, the distinct Parsi Community might now be part of the colourful fabric of minorities stitched together, but they were once refugees too, who much like today’s Syrians, fled their homeland on boats and ships. After the fall of the Sassanian Empire (which had endorsed Zoroastrianism as the state religion) in Iran in 642 CE to Arab Muslims, a group of Zoroastrians sought refuge from religious persecution in the western shores of India. The discrimination and harassment began in the form of sparse violence and forced conversions. Muslims are recorded to have destroyed fire temples.
Zoroastrians living under Muslim rule were required to pay a tax called jizya.
According to Qissa-i-Sanjan (Story of Sanjan), a 16th century lore on the life of the early Zoroastrian settlers in India, when the refugees first arrived on the shores of Sanjan, they were presented with a full glass of milk by the local ruler Jadi Rana. It was a metaphor conveying the message that there was no space for the newcomers. It was then that the Zoroastrians responded by adding a spoonful of sugar to the milk, demonstrating that they would be ‘like sugar in a full cup of milk, adding sweetness but not causing it to overflow’. The qissa of Zoroastrians demonstrate mainly two things: The Indian subcontinent always opened its doors to people from the world and religions survive only when they adapt to the demands of the epoch. Religion, much like any cultural practice, must always be open to change, if it has to survive. However, that does not mean you have to give up your own culture and identity. The ‘selective assimilation’ of the Parsis exhibited integration into a host country while holding on to the distinctiveness.The 1979 Islamic Revolution was equally traumatic for the remaining Zoroastrians, and their numbers reduced drastically. Immediately after the revolution, during Bazargan’s premiership, Muslim revolutionaries “walked into the main Zoroastrian fire temple in Tehran and removed the portrait of the Prophet Zoroaster and replaced it with one of [Ayatollah] Khomeini”. Zoroastrian places of worship were desecrated, fire temples were destroyed and mosques were built in their place. Many libraries were burned and much of their cultural heritage was lost. Gradually an increasing number of laws were passed which regulated Zoroastrian behavior and limited their ability to participate in society. Over time, the persecution of Zoroastrians became more common and widespread, and the number of believers decreased by force significantly.
India is the only country in the world where people from different countries can be safely deceived by ‘religious fanaticism’. This is a fitting reply for people with an anti-India mindset.