Between 1951 and 2001, when the country’s population increased by 185%, the number of Parsi-Zoroastrians fell by 37.7%. This probably explains why no other community in India watches its demographics as closely as the Parsi-Zoroastrians. While the country measures its demographic milestones in decennial censuses, the Parsis have an annual count that is keenly studied by community members who are worried about their declining numbers.
By Manoj R Nair | DNA India
Mumbai-based magazine Parsiana carries a weekly update on the number of births, marriages and deaths in their worldwide Diaspora. In Mumbai, where the majority of the community lives, the information comes from the municipal corporations, marriage venues and hospitals. The statistics from outside the country is collected from community associations. The weekly lists are then compiled into an annual report.
The latest annual report released last month has few surprises. The most remarkable statistic from the report says that 39% of community members who married in 2011 chose a non-Zoroastrian as a partner — a 1% increase over 2010. This means that two out of every five marriages are now inter-community unions. When Parsiana started compiling these statistics in 1988, around 14% of community members married non-Zoroastrians. In 2011, three out of every five men found a marital partner outside their community; among women, two out of five women took non-Zoroastrian partners.
The rising number of mixed marriages no longer makes news in the community, but when Parisana started carrying the information, it was not well received. “There was a huge outcry. Over the years, people have accepted this (mixed marriages); every family now has somebody who is married to a non-Zoroastrian,” said Patel.
The report also says that between 2010 and 2011, the number of births declined from 116 to 103; deaths declined from 933 to 763 in the same period. The average age at death was 79 years in 2011, rising from 75 years in 2010. In Mumbai where two out of every three Indian Zoroastrians live, their numbers are now estimated to be 40,000 — down from a peak of 70,000 in 1961.
Nationally, the figure is now 61,000 — almost a 50% decline from 1941 when the community’s numbers reached 1,14,000, its highest ever.
Dinshaw Tamboly, former trustee, Bombay Parsi Punchayet, the community’s apex body, estimates that if their numbers continue to fall at an average rate of 12% per year, the community’s head count will be down to just 12,000-15,000 by the end of this century.
The decline has been blamed on various factors, including migration, inter-community marriages and low fertility rate. To boost births, community trusts helped the establishment of a free fertility clinic in Mumbai a few years ago. The clinic has facilitated nearly 200 births, according to Tamboly.
But Tamboly says that 200 babies will hardly bolster the community’s falling numbers. A 2011 research by Zubin Shroff and Marcia Castro concluded that inter-community marriages had little to do with the decline. Migration figures were either not accurate or not readily available.
The researchers concluded that low fertility — the number of children per woman — as chiefly responsible for the dramatic decrease in the population. “Therefore, only a dramatic increase in fertility can arrest this trend and bring about the existence of a viable and demographically stable Parsi community in Mumbai,” the research paper concluded.