The parsis or Zoroastrians believe death is not just part of life, but the temporary triumph of evil over good and in the process the dead body would pollute the sacred: earth, water or fire. According to the Scholar of the religion, this seems to be quite practical for the dead body to be exposed naked to the sun for the vultures to prey upon it, because in the Indian subcontinent, where these parsi form more than a quarter of the total population of the world, wood, clean water and soil are in short supply. Moreover they feel that this is also an extension of the faiths egalitarian ethics.
But their problem does not seem to be getting over by allowing the vultures to prey upon their dead. As the vulture culture of parsi continue being part of their dead folk’s last ritual, slowly vultures seems to be losing its population because of the drug poisoning for eating the dead cow which is treated by diclofenec before they succumb to death. Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used for a variety of painful and inflammatory conditions.
Once hundreds of vultures hovered in the sky near the Parsi Tower of silence are no more to be seen around. This is really a big problem for the community, which does not allow its dead to be buried or burned. According to the Zoarastrian Parsi Community of Mumbai it usually took only half an hour for the vutures to finish their part of the ritual, cleaning the dead body flesh deemed to be spiritually contaminated. We can imagine the number of vultures around the tower of silence waiting for the dead to be kept there.
But the vulture have almost been wiped out because of this accidental poisoning and may be because of the unimaginable urban development taking place in and around Tower of Silence posing threat to mating and breeding of the vulture population. This has led the parsi community divided over their dead to decide how best they can treat remaining true to their faith. According to some Scholar, the last act of charity is with a vulture that has been the traditions and now it has severely come under threat. When we look at most cultures, the vultures are seen as a scavenger, in a very negative light, whereas to parsi the vultures are a religious bird because it’s… performing a religious service.
Migrated from Iran centuries ago, there are about 40,000 Parsis in Mumbai and elsewhere in India, representing more than a quarter of all Zoroastrians. They have played a formidable part in the history of India’s commercial and financial capital, known as Bombay until 1995. Prominent Parsis range from famed industrialist J.N. Tata, who built the Tata group of companies and contributed immensely in the institutional development of the country, to rock star Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara, who studied just outside the city.
The "towers of silence" or "dakhma", where Parsis place their dead, is in the Malabar Hill in Mumbai, the neighbourhood near the sea, which is home to film stars, politicians and stock brokers. This is now making debate about it all the more charged. The community is divided, as per Minoo Shroff, chairman of the city’s Parsi Punchayet, the largest community trust. He says, “We don’t have a pope here. We are guided by very many people."
Without vultures, Mumbai’s tower of silence now relies on solar concentrators to magnify the sun’s effect on the bodies, which to many is not acceptable as per the tradition. Some believe that theologically this is totally wrong. In fact with solar concentrators, bodies are burned by the sunrays. This in an alternative and looked as cheap fix by the community. But the real problem is the smell emanating out of the dead body burned by the sunrays. The parsi panchayat faces real threat of lawsuit from the local community about the smell.
The panchayat is looking at this problem as entirely the community problem from administration, managerial, and hygienic point of view of the society. It is not looking it as the parsi’s problem alone. Before this, community even tried using chemicals but of no use, because it leaves behind the ankle deep sludge which creates another problem.
Another proposal, backed by environmentalists and traditionalists alike, was for a huge aviary around the dakhma where vultures could be bred. Supporters say no more than 75 captive birds would be needed to consume the average three Parsis who die every day in Mumbai, while some say that averagely 200 vultures would be required.
The punchayet says the aviary idea does not sound viable, but insists it has little money to support it, given its obligations to subsidize Mumbai’s Parsis from cradle to grave. It argues that their priority is towards the living, and not towards the dead. The parsi community themselves are on the verge of losing its population because of genetically infertility problem. The punchayet have bigger challenges to sponsor fertility programme and increases subsidies as families grow, for the community faces its own survival battle.
The question is worrying the parsi community like nightmare where they should be prioritizing their next generation at the cost of the dead old tradition of vulture culture or continue respecting their dead by sponsoring the revival of vulture population around the Tower of Silence. In both the cases danger is of losing its ethnicity. And the community fears if the ethnicity is lost, identity is lost.