Dr. Khosro Mehrfar
Mrs. Katayoon Farin
At the turn of the century in exactly 1900 AD, a daughter
was born in Bombay to Arbab Rostam Kermani and his wife Almay. They named her Manijeh.
Arbab Rostam Kermani was the elder brother of Arbab Keikhosrow Shahrokh, one of the most
famous Zoroastrian leaders of recent times. Earlier, the two brothers had left their
motherland due to severe hardships imposed on them because of their religious belief by
their zealot Moslem countrymen and had come to Bombay in pursue of a better life and
higher education. They both succeeded, in spite of the many limitations they faced.
After marrying Almay, a young Zoroastrian girl, and
beginning their family, Arbab Rostam, along with their three children sailed to Shanghai
and started a business trading silk and tea. And soon, due to his honesty, hard work and
wisdom arbab Rostam became one of the most famous businessmen of Shanghai, China.
Manijeh finished her elementary and high school education
in British schools in Shanghai and became fluent in English and French. Her talent in
music was unmatched and was able to finish the highest level of classical violin up to the
"Virtuoso" classification at a very early age. Due to her mastery, she was
selected among many to perform as the violin soloist in one of the largest concerts in
Shanghai, while her sister, along with a big orchestra, was playing the piano. Manijeh was
12 and she gave her performance so professionally that the mayor of Shanghai awarded her a
At the age of 18, Manijeh married Aflatoon Keikhosrow Shahrokh in Bombay, and
they moved back to their motherland of Iran with their newly born son, Shahrokh. At that
time, Iran was an underdeveloped country with a lot of poverty. It was a big change for
the young Manijeh. Nothing was even comparable to the prosperous life that she was used to
in Shanghai. But there was something that could not be bought, nor influenced by any
wealth. And that was the hidden force in young Manijehs heart, her true love for her
motherland, Iran. This hidden true love was so strong that in spite of her limited
knowledge about Persian culture, language and the unknown environment, she decided to stay
and contribute to the welfare and progress of the lives of her fellow Iranians.
In order to be able to communicate with her newly found
people; she started to learn Farsi. This was very hard, as almost all of the women of her
time were not allowed to learn anything new except for what was told to them by their
mothers in the comfort and security of their homes. And that home learning was mainly how
to cook for the man of the house and how to provide pleasure for him as he wished. These
teachings were far from her religious and social teachings. She could remember very well,
that since childhood, her parents had taught and explained to her one of the main
principles of their faith: the equality of all men and women in all aspects of social
life. It was very strange, and sometimes unbelievable for her to see that in the land of
her Prophet, where the faith was born, this grave injustice was being inflicted on many
women of her time, just because they were not male.
Injustice against women was widespread across the country
and especially very severe in villages where the level of education was very low. She
could see that in some cases, even the very life of a woman, being a wife or a sister or a
daughter, was in the hand of the man or men of the house. Coming from a different country
with a modern society of its time and much higher relative respect for women, she soon
realized that injustice had a deep root in peoples belief, which was directly
related to their lack of education.
But what to do? Indifference was one choice - like that of
many other women before and after her who chose or have chosen to stay quiet and suffer.
But this was not her way. She decided to fight injustice. She could not stay quiet while
in the land of the Good Prophet, women suffered, sometimes losing their lives because what
the Good Prophet had preached so strongly millennia ago had been totally forgotten.
She started with the Zoroastrian community and decided to
teach young girls and women, as her experience as her parents in Shanghai taught her.
It took a lot of hard work and dedication to pass the first
hurdle and get the permission of the Zoroastrian Anjuman to allow her to start teaching
light Swedish sports to the young Zoroastrian girls. The problem was not with the Anjuman,
but the governmental procedure that the Anjuman had to go through to convince the
authorities of the time to allow a woman to teach her fellow women.
As far as historical documents show, this was the very
first time in recent Iranian history that a woman was teaching at a school and it was the
very first time that someone had dared to teach sports to young girls. Manijeh knew well
that the only way to break the mold is to regain forgotten or lost pride. She knew well
that one day, the self-confidence that is an integral part of that lost or forgotten pride
will eventually arise. It was up to individual leaders like her to lead the way and awaken
It took a short while for the Anjuman to realize the
tremendous value put forth by Manijeh. Banking on her leadership and added value to the
community, she requested to start two more classes to teach the young girls English
language and the art of quilting and sewing. At that time, there was no junior high school
for the Zoroastrians, not even for boys. The highest level of education that a Zoroastrian
boy could have achieved in Iran, at that time, was the 6th grade of elementary school.
She started to think about this as her next project. She
knew well that she could do nothing for the boys, as it was a taboo for a woman even to be
concerned about the well being and welfare of boys. She also knew that the first thing she
needed was a capital investment to pay for the costs involved. With the help of some other
progressive Zoroastrians women of her time, she planned and organized a theatrical play at
the Zoroastrian center. The play was boycotted by some Iranian men, but the net profit
from the sales of tickets was large enough to give Manijeh and her friends to fund the
very first girls' junior high school, with only one class of the 7th grade. Eighth and 9th
grades were added next year. It should be noted that this was all happening even prior to
the opening of a Zoroastrian boys junior high. A few years later, with the help of
the Anjuman, and following the leadership of Manijeh, boys also got their first junior
Soon after the expansion of the Zoroastrian junior high
schools, The Zoroastrian Anjuman, realizing her leadership and vision, asked Manijeh to
perform as the special ambassador and trusted envoy of all the Zoroastrian schools.
Recognizing the importance of education in the tiny community of Iranian Zoroastrians, she
accepted the responsibilities of the new position and performed well for many years to
In addition to this critical task that she undertook, she
also started to help the Iranian population in general by going to hospitals and infant
health care organizations and providing a variety of services for the welfare of her
Iranian fellow citizens, specifically women and children. If there was something that
needed to be done to help a family, but was beyond her capability, she would contact any
and all authorities to make sure help would come to the needy family. By now, many
authorities knew her. After all it was very unusual in that society for a woman to stand
up for the rights of her fellow citizens. Recognizing her honesty, sincerity and love for
the Iranian people, they would seldom reject her requests.
During the time, when the women of Iran were covered from
head to toe with the black veil or "Chador", Manijeh Shahrokh was to first to
appear in public with the "Sari," which is the special dress of Parsi women. She
would do that with utmost courage and without any fear. Soon, her way of dressing became
yet another symbol of her leadership and vision and due to her noble character and
ingenuity, her choice of dress inspired a great deal of respect in most of the people who
had either known her or had heard about her. This was years before Reza Shah, of the
Pahlavi Dynasty ordered the removal of the veil from the women of Iran.
Manijeh Shahrokh was one of the founders of the Zoroastrian
Womens' Organization (ZWO). She knew that for women to prosper and contribute to the
society, they had to have their own organization to receive various kinds of services, and
in time of desperate needs to focus on specific problems and help each other to resolve
them. The most basic of these services were different kind of classes, such as sewing,
quilting, flower design, social affairs, cooking, home planning, English and many
conferences and seminars for public education and awakening the sleeping pride of
It was not easy to establish such an organization with the
word "Women" in it. And Manijeh and other progressive women encountered many
severe problems and various objections from all-male organizations. Many times they were
tempted to just give up. But that was not Manijeh's way, nor that of her colleagues. It
took more than three years of day to day effort, many sleepless nights and inch by inch
advancements to bring about the existence of the Zoroastrian Womens' Organization.
It was in the month of Bahman 3678 Zoroastrian, or 1329
Khorshidi or 1940 AD that the ZWO was registered and started its services to the
community. This organization was established on a non-political basis and from its
inception on day one to this day, it has not indulged in any political activities nor any
political discussions. Its mission was and is to promote the welfare of the Iranian
community in general and Zoroastrian women in particular. It has been very successful in
fulfilling its mission as witnessed by many achievements over the years such as several
earthquake relief funds and services, relief to flood victims, educational seminars,
health services to any and all Iranians, and other good works.
Manijeh was elected as the first president of the ZWO by
unanimous decision, a position she held for many years where she provided leadership and
vision for the Iranian Zoroastrian womens' community.
This organization is still an integral part and a vital
member of the overall Iranian Zoroastrian society and is providing expanded services to
all aspects of Iranian life by its hard work and the dedication of its past and present
leaders, whom were educated under Manijeh's leadership and direction.
It must be noted that at the time of this writing, the ZWO
is still the only Zoroastrian Womens' Organization in the world that was founded and is
managed by Zoroastrian women. And in 3734 Zoroastrian, 1996 AD, the United Nations,
acknowledging the pioneer and progressive spirit of the organization and the founding
members, and realizing the various services that have been provided by the organization,
bestowed a special recognition and made the ZWO an "Accredited" member of the
United Nations for the advancement of humanity.
Manijeh was the first Zoroastrian woman who participated in
the regular meetings of the Zoroastrian Anjuman of Tehran, and in addition to discussing
the needs of the ZWO and various initiatives, provided the vision and the foresight for
the necessity of getting women involved in all aspect of Iranian Zoroastrians social life.
One of the very first of these initiatives was to secure Zoroastrian women the right to
vote. This crucial task, as part of her never-ending zeal to promote Zoroastrian womens'
life was soon achieved and for the first time in more than 1300 years, a small portion of
Iranian women achieved the crucial right of voting. The awakening process had been
Manijeh Shahrokh was a woman of steel. She was a noble,
progressive, visionary, highly educated, honest, straightforward, down to earth and very
courageous woman who was afraid of nothing and achieved what she had envisioned early in
her life. She was a dedicated wife and a mother who raised four very successful children;
one boy and three girls, one of whom I personally know: Ms. Katayoon Farin, wife of the
beloved Dr. Farin of Iran. She is a woman with the same strength and character as her late
Manijeh was a Zoroastrian in a true sense. The
ever-lasting, ever-fresh principles of Zoroastrian religion taught to us by the Good
Prophet himself, the golden rules of "Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds"
were always her guiding light in all of her prosperous life of 84 years. She stayed
progressive even to the last days of her life, advocating education and new science to
advance the cause of a good life for her fellow human beings.
God bless her soul and may the path she paved be followed
by many young Zoroastrian girls who are reading this biography across the world.
Dr. Khosro E. Mehrfar is born in
Tehran, Iran. He moved to U.S. in 1979 to pursue his higher education. Dr. Mehrfar has
served the Zarathushti community in many capacities. He lives in Southern California with
his wife and two children.