A woman has ignited a furious row over the centuries-old tradition of using vultures to dispose of the dead by sending gruesome pictures of rotting corpses to hundreds of homes.
About three bodies a day from the dwindling Parsi community in
The issue erupted after scenes from inside the Towers of Silence were revealed by Dhun Baria, 65, who printed leaflets with grainy pictures of bodies and distributed them to 2,000 Parsi homes in Mumbai. She said she only learned what happened behind the walls of the squat circular towers after her mother's body was taken when she died eight months ago.
“The staff told me everything. They said: 'Madam, it is hell inside',” she said.
“I was crying a whole day and a night. It is the biggest mistake of my life that I have put my mother inside there. I thought I must help to change this system.” The Towers of Silence are off limits to all save pall bearers and the vultures who once circled overhead in large numbers before they dramatically died off.
Pictures circulating within the community are understood to show several dozen bloated and blackened bodies arranged around the upper platform of a tower and decomposing bones of other bodies in a well 20ft below. The process, known as Dakhma, dates back to ancient
Bodies were first put on top of mountains and later on to specially-built towers. It is not practised by Parsi migrants in other countries.
But the process that once took a few hours or days now takes months, according to reformers, with crows and snakes taking over from vultures. They complain solar panels set up to aid decomposition have failed to speed up the process. Baria said she was sent pictures anonymously and received threatening telephone calls over her campaign to persuade senior figures to allow cremation or burial. Her actions have horrified the orthodox wing of the Parsi community, part of the 3,500-year-old religion.
“It is not going to be a big garden of roses inside,” said Anahita Desai of the orthodox World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis.
Vispy Wadia, part of the reforming Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism, said people should also have the right to choose to be cremated or buried.
But some community leaders were resisting the move and want a vulture breeding programme to solve the problem. Minoo Shroff, the head of the Bombay Parsi Punchayat that runs the Towers of Silence, said: “The bulk of the community is very much for the system that has thrived for hundreds of years.” (AFP)
Fall in numbers of Parsi Community in
The Indian Parsi community fled persecution in
Emigration and a tradition of marriage within the community has seen numbers fall to less than 70,000 across the country. Two thirds are in Mumbai.
But the Parsis' troubles are minor compared to the vultures that have suffered the biggest decline of any animal species in the world, from millions in
The drug was banned in May but was too late for vultures in Mumbai with none left in the city.
Reproduced from “Emirates Today” online version 03/09/2006