Parsi religious endowments in Mumbai

Parsi religious endowments in Mumbai

Leilah Vevaina


While Mumbai is infamous for the extreme contrast of its horizontal landscape of slums pressed up against the vertical landscape of high-tech and high-finance buildings, little attention has been paid to communal charitable trusts even though they own and manage large stretches of real estate in the city. This research is an ethnography of Parsi (Indian Zoroastrian) trusts and how the circulation of trust assets serves to maintain communal boundaries, reconstitute property relations, and create new forms of value. Based on 16 months of ethnographic field research in Mumbai, this dissertation will show how property produced through the communal trust serves to privilege certain gendered claims. It will describe how the boundaries of the Parsi ‘community’ itself become constituted by practices of claiming and regulating membership through the circulation of communal assets.

Building on the existing feminist scholarship on Indian law and secularism, my research shows how trusts re-locate the secular and religious in contemporary India as the management of trusts reveals a very specific topography of practice within the shifting spheres of the sacred and profane, by encouraging the propertising of Parsi personhood in specifically gendered ways. By analyzing trust assets in motion in Mumbai’s complex real estate market, I argue that the emergent forms of value created will show how the trust, as a kind of property regime, constitutes Parsi communal life and reorders kinship relations by structuring inheritance and ownership in particular ways. This research will contribute to the understanding of the ways in which minority groups construct, manage, and defend their social boundaries through material assets.