Parsi Students 1873

by Guruprasad

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Group of Parsi students with their master at Elphinstone School of Bombay.

Source of the pic:

In the above link, you can see related photos, one of which is the 1866 photo which is the first entry of this album. I have updated the description of that entry:

The history of Parsi community in India dates back to the 8th century. Some part of the Zorasrian population migrated from Persia to India as refugees after Arabs invaded them. They initially landed at Diu in Gujarat where the local Hindu ruler was kind enough to grant them land and gave a lease of new life. They were actually not called Parsis but the Indians called them Parsis because they came from Persia which was called Pars by Indians.

Thats how their journey began. Later, most of the Parsis spread to different towns, notably Surat and Bombay. Sometime in 17th century, British had come up with a master plan to develop Bombay into a commercial centre and started provding lots of opportunities and benefits to anyone who was interested in being a part of this plan. British invited people to come to Bombay and guaranteed them religious freedom, protection and even announced that such people would be considered citizens of England (British desperately wanted to set Bombay as a major commercial establishment as soon as possible).

Most of the other communities were a little skeptic about getting involved in this plan, but the Parsis very quickly recognized the potential of this and siezed most of the attractive opportunities related to industries, trading ship building etc. (However, slowly other communities also joined but they Parsis were clever enough to take the creamy opportunities).

Parsis got involved in most of the industrial revolutions that took place in India. The cotton industry boom, the ship building boom, iron & steel etc. We shall see more of such Industrial revolutions and how Parsis were involved and which were the popular families and related stuff in later pics and stories.

This way, the British had a very good impression about Parsis from 17th century itself. They felt Parsis were Indians in blood but English in taste and opinion. In 19th century, when British planned to bring a new educational system to India, they considered Parsis as their interpreters who would learn this system from them and impart it to rest of the country and this led to the foundation of their systematic modern education.

In 1820, Elphinstone School was established at Bombay (This photo is of a classroom from that School in 1873). Parsis were well educated, such modern education led to some reform in the community by banishing blind superstitious beliefs which did not seem logical. They became more open in terms of thinking and behavior. Women were also educated and given equal rights. British was very happy to see this kind of reform taking place but little did they know that it would backfire them. As the Parsis became got more education and increased social awareness, they realized how British has been exploiting India and slowly started revolting against them. One of the best examples being Dadabhai Naoroji who published a book titled “Poverty and Un-British Rule in India” which showed how wealth is being drained out of India and pushed into Britain. Discussing about the freedom struggle is a different thing altogether which can run into hundreds of pages, lets keep that discussion for some other day and talk only about Parsi community here.

So, in a way, Parsi community has been instrumental in the industrial development of India. Why did they choose to migrate to India when they had several other choices? How were they received by Indians? Did the Parsis try to influence Hindus or did the Hindus try to influence Parsis? How were they involved in Industrial revolution. What makes Bombay a very special place for them? Who were the most popular Parsi families? Since Parsis had a good relationship with British in terms of industry/trading and Mahatma Gandhi being a firm opposer of industries and much firmer opposition against British, What opinion did Mahatma Gandhi have about Parsis? All these questions will be answered using different photos and narrations later :)