Zoroastrians Contribution During the First World War
During the First World War, the forgotten Zoroastrian community in India played a vital role in supporting the British. The Zoroastrians volunteered their service through money and material. Properties to treat the wounded, doctor, and positive vibes whilst the duration of World War 1. Yet why are they forgotten?
Who were the Zoroastrians in India?
In the ninth century, a group of Zoroastrians fled Iran because of religious persecution and sailed to India, arriving at the port of Sanjan in South Gujarat. The Hindu King Jadiv Rana gave them sanctuary and they integrated seamlessly into the society. The descendants of these Zoroastrians refugees are known as Parsees in India meaning those who come from Persia. Although numerically small the Parsees have always volunteered their services for India whenever it has been faced external aggression, at times sacrificing their lives in the process.
Role of the Zoroastrians in the First World War
The Zoroastrians like their other sister communities in India participated in the First World War. The Zoroastrians casualties were significantly smaller in comparison to the other communities from India but this was because of the fact that they are a very small community only numbering in tens of thousands. Nevertheless, the First World War did have an impact on the Zoroastrian population. According to the 1921 census, the Zoroastrians population saw a slow growth rate due to the death of Zoroastrians serving in the First World War.
Doctors in the Indian Medical Service (IMS)
Military records show Zoroastrian officers mainly in the Indian Medical Service (IMS) serving in the Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine as they were decorated for their bravery and gallantry. One of the soldiers who fought in the war, Kershasp Ardeshir Naoroji, the grandson of Dr Dadabhai Naoroji - was the first Indian elected MP to the House of Commons in 1892 and ZTFE founder member in 1861.
Soldiers from the Zoroastrian community
Some of the Zoroastrians decorated for bravery - Major Ratansha Nariman Kapadia was awarded the Military Cross, French Croix de Guerre and the Belgian Croix de Guerre.
Colonel Phirozshah Byramji Bharucha served with the 14th Ferozepur Sikhs and was the first Indian to be awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
Captain Heerajee Jehangir Manockjee Cursetjee also served with 14th Ferozepur Sikhs and was also awarded the DSO.
Use of Zoroastrian properties for treating the wounded
Zoroastrians were known to allow the use of their property to treat the wounded. Noted examples were ' The Willows', a large estate in Windsor with its own private racecourse, belonging to Lady Franny and Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji Kt. The various estates and properties of the Tata group, including the 5 star Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, were used to treat the wounded during both World Wars. Parsee owned hospitals, including the well known B D Petit Parsee General Hospital in Bombay established in 1912, were used during both World Wars.
Zoroastrian monetary help
Many Zoroastrian families contributed large sums of money to the war effort during both World Wars and included the families of the Bomanjis, Tatas, Petits, Jeejeebhoys, Wadias as well as the apex body of the Zoroastrian community. In the Second World War, the Parsees including the ZTFE gave in excess of seven million pounds. This resulted in the ZTFE nearly going bankrupt after the war.
The Tata Iron and Steel Company ( TISCO) supplied over 1500 miles of steel rail in Mesopotamia, as steel for armaments during the First World War. This led the Viceroy of India, Lord Chelmsford, personally visiting TISCO in Sakshi Bihar after the war and renaming it Jamshedpur in honour of the late Jamshetji N Tata.
The German propaganda
The then ZTFE President Sir Mancherjee M Bhowanaggree KCIE, who was the first Indian to be elected a Conservative MP in 1895, upon request by his friend Sir George Birdwood of the India Office, authored the booklet titled; " The Verdict of India". The Verdict of India was written to counter German propaganda that Britain was mistreating its Indian soldiers and they should change sides and fight with the Germans.
The records of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (ZTFE) show Lieutenant Dr Sorab B Warden of the IMS served in Mesopotamia, later was elected ZTFE President in 1954.
Hence the Zoroastrian have participated with the British in many theatres of war though unlike other religions and ethnicities of those serving in the Indian Army which was correctly recorded, it was not uncommon for the Zoroastrians to be recorded under another religion. In fact In 1926 the Parsee War Memorial in Kharaghat Colony, South Mumbai was inaugurated to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
India1914 - Remembering Indian Soldiers, a project supported by GoldenTours Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund are working towards highlighting and promoting the smaller communities like the Zoroastrians, whose stories remain primarily unheard of, to receive due recognition.