Three marriages in three years.
N.F. Tankariwala, the lone Parsi marriage registrar in the city, has little work. Had registration of marriages been his sole vocation, he would have been reduced to penury long ago. Thankfully, the man in his 40s has a business to run, besides issuing a rare marriage certificate.
The Parsis had settled in Calcutta in the mid-18th Century. As recently as the early-1980s, there were about 1,600 of them. The number has now dwindled to just 700. The total Parsi population in India is 65,000.
Tankariwala, who made Calcutta his home about 20 years ago, is also a member of the West Bengal Minorities Commission. He took charge as the Parsi marriage registrar just over three years ago and cooled his heels for a year.
In the next two years, however, three couples came his way to register their marriages. The registrar issues a certificate after a priest solemnises the union of two Parsis. No certificate is issued if either partner is non-Parsi.
Tankariwala, a fair man with characteristic Parsi features, puts his predicament into perspective: “About 30 per cent of the Parsi population remains single, while another 30 per cent is above 60.”
Around 35 per cent Parsis opt for partners from other communities. And to make Tankariwala’s job even tougher, the death rate in the community is three times the birth rate. “Parsis are a dwindling community in the city and you cannot expect many marriages in a year,” says Tankariwala, somewhat philosophically.
Not surprisingly, community leaders have sought suggestions to arrest the fall in numbers. “If a Parsi boy weds a non-Parsi girl, their child is accepted as a Parsi. But if a Parsi girl weds outside the community, her child is not included in the fold. There is a suggestion to change this,” offers Tankariwala, adding that the number of bachelors and spinsters in the community is a cause for greater concern.
Syed Sajjad Zaheer Adnan, chairman, West Bengal Minorities Commission, stresses the need for reforms: “If a Parsi girl marries outside the community, she becomes an outcast. This should change, as the number of unmarried people in the community is a big issue.”