Category Archives: Feature

Remembering Dadabhai Naoroji on the Hundredth Anniversary of his Death

On 30 June 2017, many Indians will observe the hundredth death anniversary of Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917), an important figure in India’s struggle for independence from British colonialism and the first Indian to be elected to the British Parliament. Naoroji was a Parsi, a member of the tiny Zoroastrian community of India that today numbers only 60,000 in that country. Nevertheless, in the course of his five decades of political work, Naoroji played a vital role in uniting members of India’s diverse religious and ethnic communities into a movement for political reform and colonial emancipation.

Article by Dr. Dinyar Patel, Assistant Professor of History, University of South Carolina, and Chair, Research and Preservation Committee, FEZANA.

Dadabhai_Naoroji_1889In 1825, when Naoroji was born in Bombay (today’s Mumbai), the British had been a colonial power in India for over eighty years, causing famine and economic disruption in many parts of the country. Naoroji was, himself, born in relative poverty: his parents migrated from southern Gujarat as its local textile economy collapsed. Through his academic performance, however, Naoroji managed to secure scholarships for attending Bombay’s best educational institutions. At the age of 28, he became the first Indian appointed as a full professor in a British-administered college, teaching mathematics and physics. He also began adopting extremely progressive positions on various social issues. At a time when most women in India lacked any form of education, he established some of the first schools in Bombay for girls. Naoroji also criticized the British government for not doing more to educate its Indian subjects.

By the late 1860s, Naoroji became deeply concerned about another matter: India’s worsening impoverishment under British rule. During the second half of the nineteenth century, India experienced an unusually devastating spate of famines that killed, by the most conservative estimates, over 28 million people.[1] While British authorities blamed these catastrophes on natural disasters alone, Naoroji pointed to another cause. He argued that there was a deliberate “drain of wealth” in India, whereby British policies were siphoning capital out of the country and thereby pushing Indian subjects to the brink of starvation. Collecting and tabulating a wide range of economic statistics—while also disproving the rosier statistics compiled by British officials—Naoroji calculated that the average Indian was, by the 1880s, too poor to buy enough food for a mere subsistence diet. Under British rule, he declared, India had become “the poorest country in the world.”[2]

Naoroji’s “drain theory” caused a great stir in both India and Great Britain: it provided concrete proof of colonialism’s devastating effects upon India, rubbishing British claims of benevolent imperial rule. His writings influenced a generation of Indian and British thinkers, including several prominent British socialists. In time, Naoroji’s writings reached a wider audience across Europe and North America, becoming important resources for incipient anti-imperial movements. For example, William Jennings Bryan, the American Progressive leader, cited Naoroji’s drain theory to explain why he opposed American annexation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War.

Having laid out his economic critique of British colonialism, Naoroji forayed into politics. In 1885, he helped found the Indian National Congress, the political party that eventually led India to independence in 1947. Naoroji strove to make the Congress as inclusive as possible. As president of the organization in 1893, for example, he famously stated that, “Whether I am a Hindu, a Muhammadan [Muslim], a Parsi, a Christian, or of any other creed, I am above all an Indian.”[3]

But Naoroji did not just limit his political activity to India. Recognizing that imperial policy was formulated in London, he decided that the best way to influence this policy was to put pressure on the system from the inside. In 1886, he stood for election to the British Parliament as a member of the Liberal Party.[4] Although he lost the election, he generated widespread support among progressively-minded Britons, including suffragists, Irish nationalists, labor leaders, and socialists—individuals who lent their support for India’s political aspirations.

A few years later, in 1892, Naoroji stood for election once more, this time from the constituency of Central Finsbury in London. It was a grueling fight: Naoroji’s opposition lobbed racial barbs at the Indian candidate, while the Conservative prime minister of Great Britain, Lord Salisbury, urged voters not to send a “black man” to Parliament. In the end, Naoroji won the election—by a mere five votes (he earned the sobriquet “Dadabhai Narrow-majority”). Regardless, his victory generated headlines around the world, especially in India. When he returned to India in 1893, crowds in Bombay, Delhi, Allahabad, Lahore, and elsewhere celebrated him as a national hero.

Naoroji’s reception in the British Parliament, however, was much more frosty. He continued to face racist opposition. His pleas for Indian reforms fell upon deaf ears, and his efforts to legislate change garnered little support. In 1895, he lost his reelection bid. Disillusioned with parliamentary politics, Naoroji became more radical, pronouncing British policy in India as “evil” and “a curse,” especially in light of a new spate of famines afflicting the country.[5] In 1906, serving as president of the Indian National Congress once more, he declared that the time had come for Indians to work towards achieving swaraj or self-government. There could be no more time lost on incremental political reforms. Self-government, he stated, was the only way to stop the devastating drain of wealth that had crippled India.

Naoroji retired from politics the following year, at the age of eighty. He left behind a Congress party organization that, in spite of significant internal divisions, was growing more robust and politically confident. His analysis of Indian poverty, claiming that British imperialism was inherently exploitative, became a central tenet in India’s struggle for independence. In addition, he mentored and influenced a new generation of Indian leaders that finally brought an end to the colonial regime. One such leader was Mahatma Gandhi, who had received Naoroji’s assistance while campaigning for the rights of Indians in South Africa. A few months after Naoroji’s death, Gandhi summarized his legacy: “Dadabhai’s flawless and uninterrupted service to the country, his impartiality, his spotless character, will always furnish India with an ideal to follow.”[6]

Further Reading

Masani, Rustom P. Dadabhai Naoroji: The Grand Old Man of India. London: G. Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1939.

Mehrotra, S.R. and Dinyar Patel. Dadabhai Naoroji: Selected Private Papers. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Naoroji, Dadabhai. Poverty and UnBritish Rule in India. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1901.

Patwardhan, R.P., ed. Dadabhai Naoroji Correspondence, parts I & II. New Delhi: Allied, 1977.

[1] These estimates were for the years 1854 to 1901. William Digby, ‘Prosperous’ British India (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1901), pp. 129-30.

[2] “Famine in India: Address by Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji,” India, 1 March 1901, p. 103.

[3] Speeches and Writings of Dadabhai Naoroji, ed. G.A. Natesan (Madras: G.A. Natestan & Co., 1917), p. 59.

[4] Due to the lack of clearly-defined policies on citizenship, it was possible, in those days, for a British colonial subject to stand for a seat in a British constituency, and several Indians did so from the 1880s onward.

[5] Private correspondence, Dadabhai Naoroji Papers, National Archives of India, New Delhi.

[6] Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 14 (Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1965), p. 61.

FEZANA Bestows Lifetime Achievement Award to Ervad Dr. Jehan Bagli

At a glittering 30th Anniversary Gala in Houston, FEZANA bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award to Ervad Dr. Jehan Bagli. The Gala was hosted by the Zoroastrian Association of Houston at its center, along with their Congress Legacy 10th Anniversary awards function. All the seven past presidents were present along with the current President Homi D.… Continue Reading

Inauguration of the Sacramento Dar-E-Mehr

It is with great pride that FEZANA congratulates it’s newest member association the Sacramento Zoroastrian Association on the opening of their new Dar-E-Mehr on Sunday March 26, 2017. FEZANA President Homi D. Gandhi represented the FEZANA executive and was joined by Past Presidents Firdosh Mehta and Bomi Patel on this auspicious occasion. In the last… Continue Reading

Ervad Dr. Jehan Bagli Bestowed with FEZANA Lifetime Achievement Award

FEZANA’s highest award is The Lifetime Achievement Award which recognizes a highly-respected North American Zarathushti, who through his/her personal achievements and meritorious service has brought recognition to the Zarathushti community worldwide. On the occasion of the 30th Anniversary Celebration, FEZANA is honored to announce that Ervad Dr. Jehan Bagli has been awarded this Lifetime Achievement… Continue Reading

Zoroastrian Association of California Atash Kadeh Opens in Orange

Six years after the Zoroastrian Association of Califonia Center was opened, the dream of having a prayer hall was finally turned into reality. A unique building in many ways was completed and a long-awaited celebration was about to begin. At 9:00 am on a beautiful sunny morning on Sunday, November 13, 2016, Roj Mahrespand, Mah… Continue Reading

OZCF Atashkadeh In Canada Comes One Step Closer To Reality

OZCF GALA RAISES A STUNNING $2.24 MILLION FOR ATASHKADEH Oakville, ONTARIO, July, 2016 – It was an evening of absolute magic as over $2,240,000 was raised at the Ontario Zoroastrian Community Foundation’s (OZCF) “Magic and Sparkles” fundraising gala to build a consecrated Atashkadeh/Agiary in North America. During a night that truly sparkled with glamour and… Continue Reading

Chaiye Hame Zarthoshti: English Version by ZAOM Kids

At the 29th Annual General Meeting of FEZANA, the hosts Zoroastrian Association of Michigan hosted a Gala Event. The performance by the kids of ZAOM was part of the entertainment segment. A completely new English version of Chaiye Hame Zarthoshti, the classic Zoroastrian song. If you would like to know more about the origins of… Continue Reading

ZAOM Welcomes FEZANA 2016 AGM Delegates

From Friday 29th April to Sunday May 1st, Novi Michigan will become a hub of Zarathushti activity as the 2016 Annual General Meeting of FEZANA is held in Novi, Michigan. Hosted by the wonderful folks of the FEZANA Member Association ZAOM Zoroastrian Association of Michigan, the AGM will be attended by over 100 officials of… Continue Reading

Inauguration of the Arbab Rustam Guiv Dar-E-Mehr in New York

North America’s oldest Dar-E-Mehr has a new home. The Arbab Rustam Guiv Dar-E-Mehr was first established in 1977. On March 26, 2016 the brand new building of the Dar-E-Mehr was unveiled in Pomona, NY. This Dar-E-Mehr is home to two of FEZANA’s member associations, the Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York (ZAGNY) and the Iranian… Continue Reading

FEZANA to Host 7th World Zoroastrian Youth Congress in 2019

FEZANA wishes a Happy NewYear 2016 to all Zarathustis globally in North America and around the world. 35 young adults sponsored by FEZANA participated in the 6th World Zoroastrian Youth Congress 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand December 28, 2015 to January 2, 2016. Look out for write-ups from the participants in the upcoming issues of… Continue Reading

Laudato Si! Insight of Spenta Armaity

The Encyclical of Pope Francis Laudato Si , subtitled On care of our common home resonates with the values of Prophet Zarathushtra, of caring for the environment. Dr Neville Gustad Panthaki has written a special paper ‘Spenta Armaity’ for the Parliament of World’s Religions, Salt Lake City 2015, outlining the Zoroastrian philosophy for preservation of… Continue Reading

The Gathas: A Beacon in the 21st Century

The Gathas: A Beacon in the 21st Century was the title of the talk given by Fariborz Rahnamoon at the XVII North American Zoroastrian Congress 2014 held in Los Angeles in December 2014. “The Gathas shows the path to heaven on Earth…a path gifted by the Wise Men to baby Jesus but lost to superstition.… Continue Reading

The Achievements and Challenges of Young Mobeds in North America

A fantastic panel discussion amongst the young Mobeds in North America ensued at the recently concluded 17th North American Zoroastrian Congress in Los Angeles in December 2014. The panel was moderated by Houtoxi F. Contractor and Ervad Soli P. Dastur. and included panelists Ervad Bahrom Firozgary, Ervad Zerkxis Bhandara, Ervad Burzin Balsara, Ervad Rayomand Ravji,… Continue Reading

FEZANA represents a diverse and growing Zarathushti community in North America.

Guided by the blessings of AHURA MAZDA and the teachings of our Prophet Zarathushtra; the Federation was founded in 1987 It serves as the coordinating body for 26 Zoroastrian Associations and 14 Corresponding Groups in the United States and Canada.

The activities of FEZANA are conducted in a spirit of mutual respect, co-operation and unity amongst all Member associations, and with due regard for the principles of GOODNESS, TRUTH, REASON, BENEVOLENCE, IMPLICIT TRUST and CHARITY towards all Mankind.

:+: Baname Khoda Kshnothro Ahura Mazda