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Parsi Decline May Be Stemmed
Rohit Gupta, 21 Sep 04

mistry.jpgThe Parsi name Faroukh Balsara means little in history. He is better known as Freddie Mercury, the leading man of Queen, and was the most famous "bawa" in the world.

Parsis are Persians of Indian origin, who landed in Diu on the coast of Gujarat in the 8th century to escape religious persecution by Arab conquerors. Once they landed, they have been makers of history in India, playing key roles, specifically in Bombay where they are most populous. Many of them have been philanthropes, industrialists, statesmen, scientists, musicians, and in general - achievers. Composer Zubin Mehta and writer Rohinton Mistry are current examples.

According to the last census report by the Indian government, there are 69,601 Parsis left in the world, and falling.The reasons are many:

1: Unlike Christianity, Zoroastrianism (the Parsi faith) is a non-proselytising religion, and if you are not born one, it is very difficult to become one.

2: Non-marriage and late marriage.

3: Marriage outside the community leads to restrictions on entering the places of worship, and ostracism.

Some positive steps are now being taken:

"With dwindling figures looming large and the latest census putting their number merely at a few thousands, Parsis here have set up a fertility clinic to preserve — and hopefully expand — their community. The clinic in Mumbai Central is the brainchild of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat, a body officially inaugurated today. It is an attempt to raise awareness among Parsis, especially young couples, about the availability and necessity of fertility treatment. "

Way to go, Bawas!

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There is still a significant Zoroastrian community in Iran and a Zoroastrian diaspora in the West. Neither share the Parsi attitude to conversion.

Posted by: Alan on 21 Sep 04

Yes, the high priests here are showing a great degree of reluctance for any change in that direction. A higher rate of reproduction may be the only solution.

Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 21 Sep 04

How is "let's breed like bunnies so our exclusionary culture may prosper" a good thing? ("Exclusionary" based on the article, I don't have an opinion.) Surely, a more positively WorldChanging method of preventing decline would be to embrace the outside world, not to pop out more kids.

Posted by: Jeremiah Blatz on 23 Sep 04

I don't think this is going to work - the Parsi Panchayat has an incentive scheme for couples to have a third child - which has been a miserable failure. Because, having more children is merely a statistic and not the real issue.

I feel the problem is more fundamental - one that Jeremiah has suggested - "to embrace the outside world" is indeed the way to go.

But first the community needs to embrace its own. Take the case of my family - we are three daughters born to Parsi parents all of us have had our initiation ceremonies (navjote) - and we're all married outside the community. This technically ex-communicates us from the community. Our children cannot be Parsis either, even if we so wished.

Do i feel part of the community - not really. Am i proud of my community that has contributed so very much to the development of industry in India - not any more.

And most importantly, am i motivated to change things - no - because i donot feel i belong anyways.

It is this fundamentalism that needs to change. Or the Panchayat can continue sticking its nose in the mud and eventually sink itself and the community into extinction.

Apologies for the long rant here - just couldn't resist :)

Posted by: dina on 23 Sep 04

I have so many Parsi friends and acquaintances and none of them seems to actually bother about this.

To draw attention to the crisis I tried to interlace some issues with a adventure-fiction backdrop in the Mid Day comic serial. It's even called Towers Of Silence, and the reaction from my Parsi friends was simply to the comic, not the issue. and it was appearing simultaneously with all the post-census news reports. Maybe I failed, but anyway.

Another way of looking at it, does it really matter what the Panchayat says? Because you have broken out of the community, and so many others like you - do you not carry some of that identity and are ambassadors of it? I wonder if it is really a crisis, or a proof of the fact that Parsis have moved on! Which is good, no?

Yes, the high priests not recognise your status as a Parsi, but I don't know how far that matters, as long you say you are of Parsi descent.

Just trying to think aloud. *scratches head*

Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 24 Sep 04

*scratching my head* too - you make some interesting points Rohit - yes i could carry some of the identity forward .. and move on. The dilemma is when i think of the future - of children - they are denied the option - they cannot be Parsees even if they or their parents so wished. If more and more of this happens (as is the trend) there will be nothing left for them to carry - and no identity or tradition of being Parsee to carry forward.

still *scratching my head * :)

Posted by: dina on 24 Sep 04

The fertility clinic idea is frankly idiotic. The population of parsees is declining chiefly because of the unwillingness of the orthodoxy to accept the children of Parsi women and their non-parsi husbands into the fold. Besides, physiological fertility is not declining among the parsis -- it is the willingness to have children which is declining.

As a parsi woman who has deliberately remained childless, I can definitely say the following --

(1) The fertility clinic will NOT encourage young, independent parsi women to produce more children -- there is already a subsidy scheme in place for that, and it has produced barely 90 children in 10 years!

It is a fact that women with higher education and economic opportunities, have fewer children. In that respect, the Parsi woman is an ideal example for the rest of Indian woman to emulate.

(2) It will also NOT encourage parsi women to marry parsi men and produce "pure-bred", "full pedigree" parsis. Yes, these are actual terms of use by Parsi orthodoxy. Too bad if it makes us all sound like pedigree cats or dogs. Anyway, a women in control of her own bank account does not need to kow-tow to the whims of the orthodoxy, and she knows it.

(3) At the most, it will help out parsi couples who have delayed child bearing for financial or other reasons. But they, I suspect, are too few in
number to make a substantial difference to the population decline.

If the panchayat wants to increase the number of parsis, it should best start by discarding it's outdated concept of racial purity.

Thanks for letting me post here!

Posted by: F. Sutaria on 6 Oct 04



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