Being Bawa: Just How Parsi Women Rights Question The Feminist In Me.

Maia Bedi
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At parties, my family is a popular topic. I’m half Parsi and half Punjabi- so obviously, I can drink without getting wasted. (I’m not allowed to comment, I’m 17.)


Uh, no, he’s not. He speaks fluent Gujarati, but my mom is. Despite Zoroastrianism’s identity as a minority religion, it fits well with traditional Indian religious norms of gender inequality. According to religious and national law, the child of a Parsi mother and non-Parsi father is not Parsi, and cannot enter a fire temple, or Agiyari. However, if a Parsi man marries a non-Parsi woman, his children are Parsi. This means that only the children of Parsi fathers can be Parsi too. Cute.

What You Should Know:

  • Parsi women cannot have Parsi children if they marry outside the community, but men can
  • Multiple other rituals are denied to such children
  • The ethnic purity mania and double standards have yet to change

Parsi Women and Rights. A picture of my family. Pic Credit: Maia Bedi Parsi Women and Rights. A picture of my family. Pic Credit: Maia Bedi

This is because most Parsi women are far more successful than their male counterparts, and choose to marry people who match them in merit and ability, not in thread ceremony experiences. As the result of one such marriage, I can vouch for others who don’t get the concessions kids with ‘Bawa Pappas’ get. I have to live in one of three designated buildings for non-Parsis within a Parsi colony.

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Until senior school I was denied a merit certificate and cash prize that only ‘full Parsi’ kids qualified for. One of the parents from the same colony and school complained to the Principal about my religion. Honestly, I didn’t worry too much about that last part. I topped the class for six consecutive years until I transferred to an international school anyway- maybe it’s better to beat 40 people than 3. 

I had to see my mother cry because I couldn’t have my Navjot in a baug and because some of her ‘friends’ refused to attend. Luckily, our family priest- or dastur-was cool with it, possibly because my Granny had made me memorise every prayer perfectly and I didn’t whine about drinking the cow urine. 

I had to see my father cry when my mother’s father died, because we couldn’t have the funeral ceremony at the Towers of Silence. Half our family wouldn’t be allowed inside. (Honestly, the cremation was a little more tasteful than waiting for a few geriatric vultures.) I almost cried when I wore my first gold Asho Farohar and one of my so-called friends told me I probably shouldn’t. I cry before going to pray for Grandpa at the Agiyari every year, because I have to go to one far away where they don’t know my last name. I have to rely on my fair skin and Gujarati skills just to be allowed inside. I hate lying before entering a holy place.

My friend, whose mum is Hindu and dad isn’t, doesn’t have to. 

My Granny is now a lot older, and every single time I walk up the colony slope to visit her, I get filthy stares from the committee of middle aged aunties for trespassing on their sacred parking lot. Obviously, it’s not an infraction on their principles to lease a large plot of land to a secular training institute like PACE for multiple crores. 

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Honestly, maybe I should be grateful that ‘Zoroastrian’ on my birth certificate doesn’t mean much. Parsi women can’t vote as members of the Ripon Club of South Mumbai. They usually have to elope to marry according to their own wishes. They can’t be dasturs. They have to hear things like “All of a sudden we are hearing these women who married outside but want to remain Parsis... I wonder how the husbands allow it to happen.” They are questioned by statements like “She has to listen to her husband or, if he is not very religiously inclined, then her in-laws. Naturally, the woman has to bow down to them.” 

My question is, how does adding more people to your community work as a move to wipe it out?

Despite being one of the most progressive communities in India, Parsis still have a long way to go. Several failed movements in the Supreme Court and HCs by prominent figures like Sir Dinshaw Petit and R.D Tata have awakened the community and country to the tolerance Parsi women exercise despite being discriminated against for years. 

I would just like to say that I’m still going to go to the Agiyari wearing Asho Farohar to pray for my loved ones. I’m still going to talk in Gujarati at home. I’m still going to laugh at incest jokes my friends make when I like Parsi boys (though I will try to correct them- ALL PARSIS AREN’T RELATED, YOU GUYS!) I’m still going to walk up the colony slope. I’m still going to be Bawa- and even if you disagree, you’d better know it. 

Views are the author's own.

discrimination Parsi a bawa girl parsi women rights