Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
IRANIAN RELIGIONS: ZOROASTRAIN
Life and Times of Manekji Limji Hataria
Fight for Zoroastrian Civil Rights in Iran
Contemporary Zoroastrians: An Unstructured Nation,
(University Press of America, Lanham MD 1994), pp. 41-47
scholar and civil activist Manekji
Limji Hataria (1813-1819)
can be no doubt of the severe hardships suffered by the Zoroastrians of Iran
from the inception of Islamic rule in that country. Even though there was the
most limited contact between the Zoroastrians of Iran and India (the exchange of
treatises between 1478 and 1768; and Dastur Jamasp-i Vilayati of Kerman’s
visit to Surat in 1720), once the Parsis began to flourish in British India they
turned their attention to their kinsmen in Iran. One particular event which
served as catalyst was the marriage of the beautiful Iranian Zoroastrian lady,
Gulistan, to the Parsi, Framji Bhikaji Panday.
reminiscences of the suffering of her people in
, inspired her husband Framji to aid `with body, mind and money’ those
Zoroastrians who came to
, and it is said that he earned the title `the father of the Irani Parsis’.
Their eldest son Burjor, started a fund to assist Irani Zoroastrian refugees,
and in 1854 another son, Mehrwan, started a fund for such assistance which came
in turn to be referred to as the Society
for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Zoroastrians in Persia
(henceforth Amelioration Society). Manekji Limji Hataria was the first and the
most outstanding emissary the Amelioration Society sent to
in 1854 to assess and report back to
on the condition of the Persian Zoroastrians. This event opened another chapter
in Zoroastrian history, one which testifies to the determination of these
peoples to overcome odds through mutual assistance, with those better off within
the community coming to the help of their less fortunate kinsmen.
laboured on behalf of the Iranian Zoroastrians until his death in 1890. He
notified the Amelioration Society in
of the Zoroastrian population of
and its surroundings had a total of 6,658;
had 450, and in
there were 50 Zoroastrians. A few families in
were noted. The severe reduction in numbers of Zoroastrians in
was traced to the Afghan invasion of 1719.
applied himself to the religious and socio-political needs of his Persian
kinsmen. Their conditions of misery and poverty must have astonished him, coming
as he did from the affluent Indian stronghold of Zoroastrianism in
. He undertook the repair of the Atash
Bahram building in Yazd in 1855; in 1857 the Atash Bahram at Kerman was
rebuilt, through the agency of Hataria and the `…help of the charitable gift
of those endowed with liberality, the community of the Zoroastrians of India,
who are of the race of the ancient Persians of Iran, by the agency and efforts
of the behdin of lauded conduct, Manekji, son of the late blessed Limji Hushang
Hataria of India, by race a Persian’. In addition, hataria had repaired the
village adurans at Qanat-ghesan near
, and Khorramshah outside
. He also had new dakhmas built at
and at Sharifabad by 1864, and in 1865, a small dakhma
at Qanat –ghesan. The upholding of religious traditions was thereby boosted by
these efforts which were funded by the Amelioration Society of Bombay.
impediments upon the Zoroastrian community received Manekji’s attentions too.
In addition to negotiations with the ambassadors of
to bring pressure to bear on the
for the improvement of the community’s socio-economic conditions, Hataria
continued a dialogue with the religious authorities, stressing the Islamic
concept of justice in the hope of softening attitudes towards the beleaguered
Zoroastrians. Thus, how could the Muslims justify their disrespect of
Zoroastrian temples and dakhmas, their insolent and demeaning behaviour toward the
Zoroastrian, which was itself often encouraged by leaders of the Muslim
community in the town or village? Manekji condemned the continuing practice of
the abduction of Zoroastrian girls who were then forcibly converted and married
to Muslim men and thus lost forever to their families. Not unexpectedly, there
was no reversal of policy on any of the several instances of persecution brought
to the attention of the clerics. They held to the position that Islamic laws
were not being infringed by the Muslim community.
Limji Hataria is immortalised in modern Zoroastrian history as the prime
instigator for the removal of the hated jizya
or poll tax. All `unbelievers’ of non-Muslims were required to pay it. Hataria
discerned at an early stage that it was payment of the jizya which was the
single most severe restriction put upon the Zoroastrian population of
, which had in turn become the instrument of their oppression. The capitation
tax on the community was 667 tomans levied annually, according to imperial
orders. The tax collectors would add an amount, arbitrarily, for their
commission, and the subsequent final demand placed upon the poverty-stricken
Zoroastrians would often be in the region of 2,000 tomans. Karaka informs us
that some one thousand adult Zoroastrians had been assessed for the payment of
the tax. Of these:
were able to bear the burden without difficulty, 400 paid it with great
inconvenience, while the rest were unable to do so at all, even at the point of
the sword. …Upon the annual collection of the tax the scenes presented at the
homes of those unable to pay it were terrible to witness. Some, to save
themselves from torture, and as the last resource, gave up their religion and
embraced the faith of Mohammed, when they were relieved from the payment of the
tax. Others, who would not violate their conscience, abandoned their homes to
escape the exactions of the tax-gatherer. These determined individuals, even
when they escaped, had always to leave their wives and children behind them.
Ground down by poverty, it is not strange that they were unable to pay the
negotiating for the removal of the jizya, over a period of 25 years, the
managers of the Amelioration Society in
contributed Rs.109,564 in assistance towards payment of the poll-tax for the
poorest of the Iranian Zoroastrians.
is not surprising therefore, that Hataria’s main preoccupation in his
illustrious career in
was to achieve the complete abolition of the jizya for the Zoroastrian
community. This proved to be no easy undertaking. The negotiations for the
lifting of the tax lasted from 1857 to 1882 when, in the autumn of that year, it
was finally abolished. Hataria and the influential Parsi backers of the
Amelioration Society in
brought their influence to bear on the British who, in turn, were prepared to
urge the Shah to review the case for the Zoroastrians in his land. Hataria was
duly presented to the ruler of
under the auspices of the British Ambassador in
, Major-General Sir Henry Rawlinson, when the subject was introduced. An
immediate reduction in amount of tax payable was achieved, namely, the sum of
100 tomans, for a total claim for that year of 920 tomans, the joint annual
. When `His Persian Majesty’ visited England in 1873, a deputation of Parsis,
led by Dadabhai Naoroji and supported by Sir Henry Rawlinson and Mr E.B.
Eastwick, MP, approached him with a petition to abolish the jizya `by way of a
propitiatory offering designed to ward off evil from his most royal person’.
Parsis continued to press their case to
, through the good offices of the British Government. Karaka set out the
grievances brought to the notice of the Shah were:
the Persian Zoroastrians were liable to forcible conversion; that property
belonging to a Zoroastrian family was confiscated wholesale for the use and
benefit of individual proselytes, notwithstanding the existence of prior claims
of lawful heirs; that property newly purchased was liable to be taxed for the
benefit of the mullahs to the extent of a fifth of its value; that new houses
were forbidden to be erected and old ones to be repaired; that persons of the
Zoroastrian persuasion were not allowed the use of new or white clothes; that
they were prevented from riding on horseback; and that such of them as were
engaged in trade were subjected to extortionate demands under pretence of
enforcing government custom dues…
on 27 September 1882, the royal firman decreeing the immediate abolition of the
jizya was received by the Amelioration Society in
. It read:
Zoroastrians, residing at Yazd and Kerman, who are the descendants of the
ancient population and nobles of Persia, and whose peace and comfort it is our
Royal desire now to render more complete than heretofore.
by the issue of this Royal firman, we order and command that the same taxes,
assessments, revenues, and all other Government imposts, trading dues etc. which
are taken from our Mahommedan subjects residing in the towns and villages of
Yazd and Kerman, shall be taken in like manner from the Zoroastrians who also
reside there, and nothing more nor less…
present and future Governors of these provinces are to consider the claim for
the payment of this tribute as now surrendered forever.
then was Manekji Limji Hataria’s single greatest achievement. Having paid the
jizya for over a millennia, the removal of this unequal tax on the Zoroastrians
meant that they could now, theoretically, join in the wealth creation of their
land for the first time since the seventh century.
it had made abolition of the jizya a prime objective, the Amelioration Society
had worked simultaneously on other fronts to improve the lot of their
. From 1857, schools began to be established for the education of Zoroastrian
children. An annual contribution of Rs. 600 went towards maintaining schools in
11 villages in the
provinces. Further funds from individual Parsis, for example, Rs. 500 per annum
from the trustees of the Nasarvanji Mancherji Cama fund, an undisclosed amount
from Palanji Patel, etc. resulted in the opening of a boarding school in 1866.
reason for opening a Zoroastrian boarding-school in
was that `the fierce bigotry of the Mullahs’ prevented similar institutions
being opened in
’. It waas thought that the population of
was more tolerant of the Zoroastrians, and the city mullahs less powerful than
those in the provinces. While the initial student intake was small, `every one
of the boys educated there has contributed largely to the welfare of the
community in later years’. The education received by the youth was to help
their economic advancement in the years to come. Indeed, in those early decades
of Zoroastrian education, sons of poor parents, having acquired a basic
knowledge of `reading, writing and arithmetic’, were able to help change the
living conditions of their families.
was the emphasis on education with which the Amelioration society, under
Hataria’s stewardship, was to `ameliorate’ in the true sense of the term,
the condition of
’s Zoroastrians. Education had been for bidden them and the vast majority were
consequently illiterate. Hataria’s accomplishment therefore, in establishing
boys’ schools in both
by 1857 – only three years after his arrival in
– was no mean achievement, in the face of considerable resentment among local
Muslims who considered it an irrelevance to educate the gabr.
By 1882, there were 12 Zoroastrian schools in
and its villages. Two of the first teachers in
were Parsis, who had come at Hataria’s behest to assist their Iranian
co-religionists. The education was a modern secular one, and some of the pupils
taught by Parsi teachers in the
school returned to
to teach there in their turn. Schools continued to be set up in the Zoroastrian
villages so that, by the first decade of the twentieth century, universal
literacy among Zoroastrian men had been achieved.
Keikhosrow Jehanyan started a school for 100 girls in
, having set aside a substantial amount in trust for its maintenance.
Thereafter, a school was opened in
, and yet another in
. Indeed, the Muslims of Tehran appeared impressed by the education provided for
Zoroastrian girls in the capital: and among the higher echelons of their society
there was an eagerness to allow their daughters to attend the Zoroastrian
girls’ school. In fact, by 1930, the
girls’ school had an intake of 152 girls, of whom 101 were Zoroastrians. The
Zoroastrian students received a free education, while the Muslim girls were
required to pay fees ranging from Rs.3 to Rs.12 per month. As Ardeshir Reporter
informs us, it was the Zoroastrians of Tehran who contributed a `voluntary
tax’ which went towards the maintenance of their school.
Amelioration society was equally aware of the danger of abduction of young
Zoroastrian women by Muslims, and therefore, set aside an amount of money
whereby orphan girls of marriageable age were `settled in life’. In this
manner, upwards of 100 girls were given in marriage to Zoroastrian men, with the
Society bearing the expenditure for the marriages.
another of Hataria’s achievements was the `opening-up’ of
to Zoroastrians. When he arrived in
in 1854, the number of Zoroastrians in the capital was 50. Others came for
seasonal work. In addition to building the school, Manekji also built a dakhma
, and established a guest-house or mehman-khaneh
so that `behdins who come there in flight from other places may stay there to
work’. The gradual change in attitudes of the Muslims of Tehran towards the
Zoroastrians meant that, over time, larger numbers moved from the provinces to
the main city.
Limji Hataria’s mission in
had been a remarkable achievement by any standard. To a casual observer it
would appear as thought this great and tireless man had single-handedly achieved
the removal of obstacles from the life or Iranian Zoroastrians. In large measure
this is in fact true. Nevertheless, influential Parsis in
had persisted in pressurizing the Iranian authorities on behalf of their
co-religionists, and individual Parsis too had continued to contribute to the
Amelioration Society in assisting its work among Persian Zoroastrians. The close
co-operation between the more affluent Indian Zoroastrians and their depressed
Iranian brethren is a remarkable chapter in the immensely long history of the
Mary, “The Fire-Temples of
”, Acta Orientalia XXX (1966).
“Manekji Limji Hataria in
”, in K.R. Cama Oriental Institute
Golden Jubilee Volume, (
M.L., Ishar-i siyahat-i
1865) in Gujarati.
D. F., History of the Parsis, vol.
& Co., London 1884).
Ardeshir, “The Educational Movement Among The Zoroastrians of
League Quarterly, April-July
1930, vol. I, Nos. 1-2.
sacred fire of the second grade
sacred fire of the highest grade
`(of the) good religion’, i.e. a Zoroastrian
place of exposure for the dead, a `tower of silence’
head tax on non-Muslims
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