Society for Economic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
For many wealthy Parsis (Indian Zoroastrians) endowing trusts for the benefit of other Parsis in Bombay fulfilled both a religious duty to perform charitable giving as well as a social role in nurturing and protecting this micro-minority in a growing colonial city. Earning their fortunes through the lucrative China trade in tea and opium, some Parsis endowed hospitals, schools, housing and sanatoria to their co-religionists in perpetuity using the instrument of the public charitable trust. These wealthy traders endowed their private real estate as social equity, which became the critical asset in community investment. This paper will trace how opium profits from Indian family firms was invested and how old practices of religious giving come to align with newer processes of financialization as religious charity comes to be bureaucratized with the instrument of the trust. While enjoying tax exemption, endowing fortunes through real estate is a way to accumulate capital but also enjoy many constraints and new obligations. This paper will explore how nineteenth century investments through the endowment form clash with contemporary land regulations and shifting religious mores.