Of faith and fortune: Parsi philanthropic networks between Bombay-Mumbai and Hong Kong

Leilah Vevaina

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While the center of Parsi (Indian Zoroastrian) communal life remains in Mumbai, the community, through its ties to ship-building, and the opium and tea trade, has for centuries had a quiet presence in the city of Hong Kong. Trade brought the Parsis to Hong Kong in the mid-eighteenth century, and a small group remained and settled after the British took over the island in 1841. Just as in Bombay, the Parsis in Hong Kong, through various philanthropic and for-profit endeavors, built-up various sectors in the colonial city, including banks, hospitals, the ferry system, and the university. In return, profits from the China trade made millionaires of several of Bombay’s ‘illustrious’ philanthropists, and helped to build some of this city’s founding infrastructure.

Although the ties between the two ports were never severed, there is currently a resurgence of donations transferred from Parsi trusts in Hong Kong back to Mumbai, for even larger projects. Unlike the profits from the China traders of the past, these funds are funneled through charitable trusts, and thus have more complex communal mandates. For certain trusts, such as the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), i.e., the apex trust of India’s Parsis, funds from overseas are vital to their welfare and redevelopment projects. As the communities in Mumbai, as well as Hong Kong, are demographically diminishing for various reasons, this project explores the re-emergence of funds and the kinds of projects that they engender in this tale of two cities.

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