On a crowded Sunday in otherwise sleepy Cusrow Baug in south Mumbai, Rhea Talati stands patiently in line to cast her vote for the first time. The 18-year-old seems a bit nervous but also expresses her expectations of the new trustees on the board of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet. “I hope they will do things more smoothly and will also do something for the Parsi youth,” she says.
As announced on Sunday evening, five trustees were newly elected. The regular term of office for a sitting trustee is seven years. The BPP is the apex administrative body of the Parsi Zoroastrian community. Counting 46,500 Mumbai residents out of 69,600 Parsis nationwide according to 2001 census figures, it is estimated that the community’s population in the city comes to 40,000. The BPP controls about 4,500 flats in the several Parsi colonies spread all over the city going by Punchayet’s own accounts. In the 2008 BPP elections, the first adult franchise was conducted.
Every effort was made to make people come and vote at the five polling stations. Minibus shuttles ferried elderly voters to the Parsi colonies. Another target group for many campaigners was young people.
Community media had reported about a number of internal fights amongst the trustees in the past. Furthermore, Rs. 3 crore was spent on litigation against two priests to bar them from praying at two Zoroastrian fire temples and the Doongerwadi or Tower of Silence, where Zoroastrians leave dead bodies for excavation. The priests had performed initiation rites for children of Parsi women who had married outside the community and had performed prayers for deceased people whose bodies were not disposed in the traditional way at the Tower of Silence. A 26-year-old female voter, who wants to remain anonymous, touched upon the topic, saying: “There shouldn’t be any more internal fighting. Moreover, the trustees should be able to see the needs of both sides, young and old people and act accordingly.”
Facing a decline in population of this already tiny community, many Mumbai Parsis have voiced another wish: The Punchayet should take better care of the housing situation and allow newly-married couples more space in the Baugs so they will find it easy to raise children.