KARACHI: The Parsi community in Karachi has always been small, but it has gifted an unmistakable legacy to the city. They have left their mark on the metropolis, especially in its older parts, with their contributions ranging from education, with formidable establishments such as Mama Parsi Girls Secondary School, BVS Parsi School and NED University, to healthcare, encompassing institutions such as Lady Dufferin Hospital, Spencer Eye Hospital, the Goolbai maternity homes and the Dinshaw Dispensary. The Metropole Hotel, though past its day, has long been a Karachi reference point and the Jehangir Kothari Parade in Clifton is a distinctive landmark. Yet the community's generosity often goes overlooked by the city's inhabitants.
The contributions of minorities to the city must be recognised if Karachiites are to embrace them, said Rashida Valika at the Karachi Parsi Institute on Saturday evening.
Valika, an assistant professor at the Karachi Institute of Technology and Entrepreneurship, expressed her worries about the situation that the minorities of the metropolis find themselves in as she led a dialogue upon the contributions of and challenges faced by small communities in Karachi, with particular reference to the city's Parsis.
Applauded by the participants, she highlighted the contributions made by former mayor Jamshed Nusserwanji Rustamji Mehta, Sir Jehangir Kothari, the Edulji Dinshaw family, Khan Bahadur Cowasjee and Ardeshir Cowasjee to Karachi's health, education and civic amenities.
"The Parsis don't stand aloof from the rest of Karachi's society," Valika explained. "They have immersed themselves in this society and their sense of belonging tells to give back to it."
She also compared the approach of the current political parties with those of noted Parsi philanthropists, and discussed the tug of war for Karachi between them. "Jamshed Nusserwanji, a member of the Sindhi legislative assembly, did not belong to any political party," she remembered. "He said that his aim was to serve the needy and to channel government funds to the poor. When he was pressed to join a political party, he resigned from his seat rather than give in."
Valika criticised the current political situation and lawlessness in the city. "Not even 10 per cent of the original Parsi population is left here," she said. "What is making them leave? The volatile political landscape and the lack of security. They love Pakistan and want their children to stay, but they see no future for them here." According to her, there were only 1,600 Parsis left in the metropolis and even these were 'quickly vanishing' as families migrated to other countries to escape the city's chaos.
"The Parsis don't need us, but the city needs them," she claimed. "We need people like them to keep our social sector intact."
A member in the audience, however, objected to her perceptions and reasoning for the decline of the community in the city. "Parsis have never been victimised and they are not running away from the country," he asserted. "Those who are wealthy and own businesses here have stayed, and those who were poor and went abroad for better education remained there because they found better opportunities." He said that the average Parsi family was quite small, having only four members, and added that their numbers in Karachi had never exceeded 7,000 at its peak.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2014.
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