Zoroastrian women are spirited and plucky, an old-fashioned word for courageous and
determined, which sums them up perfectly. Their achievements have been the breaking
of new boundaries for all of us.They campaigned with the Suffragettes and were at
the heart of independence movements, like the fiery Indian revolutionary, Madame
Bhikiji Cama, and Frene Ginwala, the courageous veteran of the African National Congress,
who became the first woman Speaker of the post-apartheid South African National Assembly.
Zoroastrian women were among the first to be admitted to higher education and the
professions. Avabai Wadia founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation
and used her legal skills to lead the campaign for the right to birth control. Today
Maja Daruwala heads the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Shireen Irani has
founded the i-ProBono legal website.
Professor Zenobia Nadirshaw, the clinical psychologist, is one of many outstanding
women academics recognised as leaders in their fields. Others champion the cause
of the oppressed and those with disabilities, women like Dhun Adenwalla who has devoted
her life to those with hearing impediments.
They have also been media pioneers. Homai Vyarawalla was India’s first woman photojournalist.
Coomi Kapoor edited Indian Express and was president of the Indian Women’s Press
Corps. Dina Vakil became the first woman editor of The Times of India, the largest
circulating English language paper in the world. Bachi
Karkaria was the first Indian on the Board of the World Editors Forum and is renowned
for her fearless writing and AIDS campaigns. Meher Moos, the food and society columnist,
has explored from the Poles to the Equator, lived with pygmies and eaten crocodile!
Zoroastrian women have taken their place in every sphere of life with dignity and
style. Their pioneering spirit and relentless striving after excellence have guaranteed
Zerbanoo’s paternal grandmother, Gover Irani, left Iran with her family as a child
refugee. Married at fourteen, she had twelve children and was widowed in her thirties.
She taught Zerbanoo her Zoroastrian prayers and the need to live a good life, all
while touring on a Greyhound bus in America in the early 1950s. She instilled in
her granddaughter a revulsion for racial prejudice as they witnessed the harsh realities
of segregation in the southern states. She also
told Zerbanoo how fortunate she was to be alive in our modern times. Now, as a woman,
Zerbanoo could educate herself and create a fulfilling life. It was strong, kind
women like Gover who made this possible for the new generation.We need to honour
and remember them.
Freddie Mercury (1946 – 1991)
Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, rock legend and lead singer of
Queen, continues to be voted one of
the greatest singers in the history of popular music. During the millennium celebrations,
his song We are the Champions was voted the most popular song of all time. Queen’s
Greatest Hits is the highest selling album of all time in the UK, outselling even
Mercury was ranked 58 in the BBC list of 100 Greatest Britons broadcast by the BBC,
and in Japan he was voted the 52nd most influential hero of the world.
Mercury’s death from AIDS was a turning point in the history of the disease. The
Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness was broadcast live to 76 countries
and had an estimated audience of one billion people.
Pheroza Godrej (1948 –)
Pheroza Godrej is the art historian and founder of the Cymroza Art Gallery, which
brought contemporary Indian art to the world stage. An active conservationist, and
President of the National Society of the Friends of the Trees, she is the author
of A Zoroastrian Tapestry – Art, Religion and Culture, the definitive book on Zoroastrianism,
its people and heritage.
Roshan Sadri (1927 – 2003)
Roshan Sadri was a philanthropist and patron of the arts, known for her zest for
life. She was associated with numerous charities, in particular, the Star and Garter
Trust and the British Forces Appeal. With her husband, Erach, she set up the Sadri
Foundation, which has been instrumental in changing many lives for the better.
Mithan Tata (1895 – 1981)
Mithan Tata was the first Indian woman to qualify as a barrister and to be called
to Lincoln’s Inn. She practised at the Bombay High Court and was Professor of Social
Legislation. Under her married name, Mithan Lam, she held many important appointments,
including being the Indian delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in
Bhikiji Cama (1861 – 1936)
Bhikiji Cama holds a unique position in India’s freedom struggle. At the International
Socialist Congress in Stuttgart in 1907 she made history by unfurling the Indian
flag of independence for the first time. Her dignity and dedication to see India
free singled her out as the Mother of Indian Revolution. Today her portrait hangs
inthe Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha.
Coomi Kapoor (1946 –)
Coomi Kapoor was the president of the Indian Women’s Press Corps and responsible
for shaping contemporary journalism in India. Her career started as a reporter for
Motherland, and she went on to be Chief Reporter for the Indian Express newspaper.
After working at India Today, The Sunday Mail, The Indian Post, and Illustrated Weekly,
Coomi returned to The Indian Express as the resident editor. She has also been a
stringer for The Times, London and a columnist for The Star in Malaysia.
Zenobia Nadirshaw (1950 –)
Dr Zenobia Nadirshaw is Professor at Thames Valley University, Faculty of Health
and Human Sciences. She has received many awards for her work in clinical psychology,
and the way that medical and psychological services are delivered to minority communities
in Britain. Zenobia is a governor of London Metropolitan University and a former
governor of the Women’s Library, London.
Sooni Taraporevala (1957 –)
Sooni Taraporevala, the acclaimed screenwriter and photographer, is best known for
her screenplays, Mississippi Masala, Such a Long Journey, and the Oscar-nominated,
Salaam Bombay. Her compelling photographs have been exhibited internationally, including
the Tate Modern, London. Sooni’s book, Parsis: the Zoroastrians of India – A Photographic
Journey, offers rare photos, as well as historical and personal essays on the Zoroastrian
religion and Parsi social history. She has kindly allowed some of her photos to be
used in this exhibition.
Frene Ginwala (1932 –)
Frene Ginwala is a veteran of the ANC struggle against apartheid. She was the first
woman Speaker of the democratically elected National Assembly of South Africa from
1994 to 2004. Under apartheid Frene smuggled the ANC deputy president, Oliver Tambo,
out of South Africa. While in exile in Tanzania, Frene established and edited the
journal, Spearhead. Later she made her home in Britain where she ran the ANC office.
She was awarded theNorth South Prize for her outstanding achievements in the field
of humanrights and was the first Chancellor of theUniversity of Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Maja Daruwala (1945 –)
Maja Daruwala heads the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and was the founder
and chair of the human rights organisation, People’s Watch. She has received numerous
awards for her work promoting issues of accountability, police reform and the right
to information. Maja is the daughter of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.
Avabai Wadia (1913 – 2005)
Avabai Wadia was born in Sri Lanka and qualified as a barrister in London. She founded
and was the President of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which was
the first nongovernmental organisation to be awarded the UN Population Award in
Homai Vyarawalla (1913 – 2012)
Homai Vyarawalla was India’s first woman photojournalist, renowned for her photographs
of Gandhi, Nehru and India’s freedom struggle. She was a stringer for Time Life magazine
and was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s the second highest civilian award.
Aban Marker Kabraji (1953 –)
Aban Marker is the Asia Regional Director of the International Union for Conservation
of Nature. She holds the Order of the Golden Ark from the Netherlands and is a McCluskey
Fellow at Yale University. Aban is known for her work on conservation strategies,
and security and conflict prevention.
Bachi Karkaria (1945 –)
Bachi Karkaria was the first Indian on the board of the World Editors Forum and served
as resident editor of the Times of India. She is a household name in India for her
satirical column, Erratica, and regular appearances as a commentator on current affairs.
An early campaigner on AIDS, she is on the advisory body of the Bill and Melinda
Dhun Adenwalla (1927 –)
Dhun Adenwalla founded the Oral School for Deaf Children in Kolkata as a positive
response after her eldest daughter, Dinaz, was born deaf. Working in English, the
School is open to children from all socio-economic backgrounds and free to those
unable to pay. In order to make the public aware of deafness, the School stages annual
shows in Mime and Sign Language, with the professional Theatre of the Deaf.
Shernaaz Engineer (1967 –)
Shernaaz Engineer is the editor of thenewspaper, JameJamshed. She has been a journalist,
editor of numerous fashion and lifestyle magazines and written several books, the
latest on the Sindhi community of India.
Zerbanoo Gifford (1950 –)
Zerbanoo Gifford is an author, human rights campaigner, and the founder of the ASHA
Centre. She has been described as one of the rare dynamic women who alter the lives
of communities wherever they’ve lived. A pioneer for Asian women in British politics,
she has received numerous awards around the world for her humanitarian work, combating
modern slavery and championing the rights of women, children and minorities.
Bapsi Sidhwa (1938 –)
Bapsi Sidhwa is an award-winning novelist, best known for her work with the Indo-Canadian
filmmaker, Deepa Mehta. Bapsi’s novel, Ice Candy Man, served as the basis for Mehta’s
1998 film Earth. Bapsi was on the advisory committee to the Pakistani Prime Minister,
Benazir Bhutto, on Women’s Development, and has lectured at several American universities.
Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal (1944 –)
Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal has worked in film and theatre as an actress and director.
She brought The Vagina Monologues to India in 2003, which raised funds for shelters
for abused women in the slums of Mumbai.
Rashna Writer (1949 –)
Dr Rashna Writer is the Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Study of Religions,
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University, where she lectures
on Zoroastrianism in Ancient and Modern Worlds. She is also an award-winning political
analyst, specialising in advising insurance underwriters and multi-national corporations
on war and terrorism risks. She is a sought-after media commentator.
Meher Master Moos (1943 –)
Meher Master Moos was the youngest professor of law in Canada and was awarded the
prestigious UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjoeld Award and the Albert Schweitzer
Medal for humanitarian work. She also received the medal for Inter Faith Peace from
His Holiness Pope John Paul II. She is the founder of the Zoroastrian College in
India and a prolific writer.
Meher Banaji (1943 –)
Meher Banaji is the Principal of the Happy Home and School for the Blind in Mumbai.
She received the President’s Award for her dedicate work with the Home’s 200 children
and young people, ranging from the age of three to twenty.
Nelly Sethna (1932 – 1992)
Nelly Sethna was a weaver of worldwide renown, whose murals and wall hangings have
been used in numerous international buildings and Air India’s Boeing 747. Despite
being confined to a wheelchair she continued to weave and travel with her husband,
Homi Sethna, the documentary filmmaker.
Toxy Cowasjee (1939 –)
Toxy Cowasjee is the acclaimed editor of Hamazor and the author of several books,
including the cookbook, Manna of the Angels. A crusader for the underprivileged,
whether Afghan refugees, victims of floods and earthquakes, or farmers suffering
drought, Toxy is admired for her selfless campaigns.
Dina Vakil (1946 –)
Dina Vakil was the first woman to be appointed resident editor of the Times of India,
the largest circulating English language paper in the world. She was previously the
editor of The Independent, Mumbai, and prior to that, executive editor of The Indian
Post, a national daily.
Katy Mirza (1948 –)
Katy Mirza was the first Asian bunny-girl and was offered a photographic career by
The Sun newspaper on arriving in London, escaping from the conflict in her home in
Aden. She became a Bollywood actress, as well as starring in the soap opera Crossroads.
Today she is an award-winning interior designer.
Rati Jinnah (1900 – 1929)
Rati Jinnah was known as the Flower of Bombay because of her beauty and
vitality. She was the only daughter of Sir Dinshaw Petit, the textile magnate. She
married Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and their only child, Dina,
married Neville Wadia, the heir to the Wadia dynasty.
Roshan Rivetna (1939 –)
Roshan Rivetna is a nuclear physicist and computer engineer. She was the editor of
FEZANA Journal from 1991 – 2005, and, together with her husband, Rohinton, is the
leading light in the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America.
Aban Pestonjee (1936 –)
Aban Pestonjee is one of the leading women entrepreneurs in the world. She is the
founder of the Aban Group in Sri Lanka, the largest home and office supplier, employing
over 12,000 people. Aban realised her dream of making life easier for housewives
by making the latest household appliances available at affordable prices.
Villoo Morawala-Patell (1955 –)
Villoo Morawala-Patell is an academic entrepreneur who founded Avesthagen, a leading
systems biology company focusing on the convergence of food, pharma and population
genetics. She is the holder of numerous awards for her work on affordable healthcare
and food security and is renowned for her business acumen.
Cornelia Sorabji (1866 – 1954)
Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman graduate from Bombay University, and the first
woman in the world to read law at Oxford. She dedicated her life to working for the
rights of women who lived in purdah and orphans. She campaigned to reform the laws
on child marriages and the position of widows.
Shernaz Engineer (1952 –)
Shernaz Engineer founded the Verity Group which provides secretary, legal staff and
IT placements. Her multimillion pound business is a by-word in the recruitment industry
for its reputation for honesty, speed of service and complete reliability.
Amy Rustomjee (1896 – unknown)
Amy Rustomjee was among the first Indians to study at Cambridge University, going
on to become one of India’s top educationalists. A member of the All India Radio
‘brains trust’, she has had halls and scholarships named after her.
Kyra Shroff (1992 –)
Kyra Shroff is an all-round sportswoman, taking part in basketball, football and
cricket, winning the All India Karate Championship gold medal, and various athletics
competitions. But her true forte is tennis. She has won several junior championships
and was awarded numerous accolades for her sporting prowess.
Jeroo Roy (1941 –)
Jeroo Roy is an artist who is known for her paintings portraying violence against
women and children. Her work has been displayed at venues as diverse as New Scotland
Yard, Amnesty International and various international art galleries. Jeroo teaches
art at the ASHA Centre as a means of self-expression to young people from conflict
zones. Jeroo painted 250 portraits of the women featured in Zerbanoo’s Gifford’s
book: Confessions to a serial womaniser: Secrets of the World’s Inspirational Women,
which were displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Meher Moos (1944 –)
Meher Moos is known as India’s intrepid traveller. She joined Air India in 1965 as
an air hostess and retired in 2002 as a Senior Executive Officer. She has explored
more than 150 countries, from the Poles to the Equator. In 1981 she embarked on a
five-month solitary exploration of over 35 countries in Africa, bent on discovering
forbidden and inaccessible interiors, marching across the Sahara to Timbuktu and
learning to live with pygmies. She is now an International Travel Consultant with
Thomas Cook and a popular food and society columnist.
Kitty Irani (1924 –)
Kitty Irani is the daughter of Khan Bhadur Shapoor and Jerbai Mazda and was born
and brought up in Kolkata. She was one of the last pupils of the child educationalists,
Madame Montessori. Kitty came to London with her husband, Bailey, in the early 1950s
and is the adored mother to Zerbanoo, Genie, Rustom and Naswan, a loved grandmother
of Mark, Alex, George, Serene, Thomas and Caspar, and greatgrandmother to William
Gool (dates unknown)
Gool was Zerbanoo’s great-grandmother. She was over six feet tall and the mother
of seven boys, and one daughter who died at birth. Four of her sons emigrated to
India and three stayed in Iran. Her eldest son endowed one of the largest hospitals
in Teheran, and her second son, Shapoor, Zerbanoo’s maternal grandfather, walked
to India to start a new life for himself, where he created a business empire.
Indian Suffragettes (1911)
The unnamed Parsi Suffragette, first on the left campaigning for women’s right to
vote, is part of a group of Indian Suffragettes on the Women’s Coronation Procession.
The Indian contingent was organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union, the
WSPU, whose representatives contacted Indian women living in the UK. The India procession
was part of the ‘Imperial Contingent’ and was intended to show the strength of support
for women’s suffrage throughout the Empire.
Dolly Dastoor (1939 –)
Dolly Dastoor is a professor and clinical psychologist in the field of aging and
specialises in the assessment of dementia. Founder President of the Alzheimer Society,
Montreal, Dolly is renowned for developing an assessment tool for the prognosis of
Alzheimer’s. She is the President of Zonta International, Montreal Club, and has
served on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, in Vienna. As the President of
Fezana, the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America, Dolly co-chaired
the 7th World Zoroastrian Congress, in 2000 in Houston.
Tanya Dubash (1968 –)
Tanya Dubash is on the board of several Godrej Group companies and is the head of
the Strategic Marketing Group. She also heads Corporate Communications and Media
and oversees Godrej Nature’s Basket, a gourmet food retailing chain. She is an alumnus
of the Harvard Business School and a Trustee of Brown University where she read Economics
and Political Science.
Nisaba Godrej (1978 –)
Nisa Godrej, the younger sister of Tanya, is the President of Human Capital and Innovation
for Godrej Industries and associate companies. She is written about as one of the
rising young women stars of the international business world.
Farangis Shahrokh (1916 – 2010)
Farangis Shahrokh was a voice for the women of Iran. She lobbied for the welfare
of women in prison and formed a supervisory body to ensure that they were not ill-treated.
She established a clinic, nursery school and orphanage in Hamadan. Farangis also
founded the Sazeman-e-Sanaye-Dastie- Irani, the Iranian Handicraft Organisation,
which today is one of the most profitable
organisations in Iran. Farangis set up 32 co-operatives for the technical training
of artisans to improve the quality and marketing of Iranian handicrafts, which is
Iran’s second largest export after oil.
Anu Aga (1942 –)
Anu Aga was the chair of Thermax Industries and the first woman chair of the Confederation
of Indian Industries Western Region. Anu is involved in education, especially for
underprivileged children, and is known for her work in corporate governance and social
Meher Pudumjee (1966 –)
Meher Pudumjee is the chair of Thermax, taking over from her mother, Anu Aga, in
2004. She has a post graduate degree in chemical engineering from the Imperial College
of Science and Technology, London and joined Thermax in 1990 as a trainee engineer.
She is also a member of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Family Business Forum.
Gover Irani (1892 – 1984) Gover Irani was Zerbanoo’s paternal grandmother. She arrived
in India from Iran as a child refugee having lost her father on the boat crossing.
She was the mother of twelve children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. All of
them had extraordinary lives, including her son, Bailey, Zerbanoo’s father. She played
a key role in bringing up Zerbanoo, who dedicated her first book, The Golden Thread:
Asian Experiences of Post-Raj Britain, to her.
Thrity Engineer (1942 –)
Thrity Engineer is a college drop-out, serial pioneer, searcher and lover of the
extraordinary, the exquisite and theexceptional. She qualified as India’s first woman
gemmologist. She is the founder of 3S (Subtle Sacred Scientific), the author of Supercoherence
– The 7th Sense, and the creator of The Supercoherence Programme, and works with
the Luminator, the extraordinary real life ‘Star Trek’ technology of superconsciousness.
Homai Daruwalla (1948 –)
Homai Daruwalla was the chair and managing director of the Central Bank of India.
Under her leadership the Bank underwent a steep growth of 110 per cent in total business
from 2005 to 2008. Homai was also the deputy chair of the Indian Bankers’ Association.
Smita Crishna (1950 –)
Smita Crishna, seen here with President Jimmy Carter, is the Co-Founder of the Association
for Inter-married Zoroastrians, which safeguards the rights of Zoroastrian women
who married outside the community. An educationalist, she is actively involved with
the Udayachal Schools at Vikhroli, Mumbai, and is the Chair of the conservation organisation,
the Heritage Mile Association.
Bapsybanoo Pavry, Marchioness of Winchester (1902 – 1985)
Bapsybanoo Pavry was the daughter of the Parsi High Priest in Bombay. She was one
of the first women to study at Columbia University in New York, and one of the first
Parsi debutantes to be presented at Court. She was singled out for her beauty, and
sat for Sargent, the leading portrait painter of his generation. A delegate at the
UNESCO Paris Peace Conference in 1947, she was a member of council of the World Alliance
for International Peace through Religion. She endowed two fellowships for the study
of international relations and human rights at Oxford University in memory of her
brother, Dr Zal Pavry. On her death she made an endowment of more than a million
pounds for the people of Winchester, with the proviso that her portrait would hang
in perpetuity in the Town Hall to mark her marriage to the Marquess of Winchester.
Shireen Irani (1981 –)
Shireen Irani qualified as a solicitor at Field Fisher Waterhouse, then set up i-
ProBono – a website connecting civil society organisations in need of pro bono assistance
with lawyers and students who want to contribute to the public good. Shireen has
also worked with the human rights attorney, Judith Chomsky, and the Center for Constitutional
Rights in New York. Shireen’s research has been key to several corporate human rights
abuse cases establishing ‘aiding and abetting’ as an offence under international