Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Lecture: Understanding Parsi Population Decline in India: A Historical Perspective

Friend of Parsi Khabar , Dinyar Patel shall be giving a talk titled “Understanding Parsi Population Decline in India: A Historical Perspective”. If you are in Mumbai this Saturday evening, this is a must-attend event. Do attend and go say hi to Dinyar after the talk and let him know you heard about the lecture here on Parsi Khabar.

Below is an article that was published in the Time Out Mumbai this week.

Event: Understanding Parsi Population Decline in India: A Historical Perspective

Time: Saturday, May 7 · 5:30pm – 7:30pm

Location: Nehru Centre, Dr. Annie Besant Road, Worli, Mumbai


Demographically speaking, the Parsis are a complete anomaly in India: while the Indian population increased by 185 percent between 1951-2001, the Parsis registered a stunning decline of 38 percent in the exact same time period, dropping to 69,600 individuals as of the 2001 census. While there is no popular consensus within the community over why this decline has taken place, scholars of demography in India and the West have studied the topic extensively. This talk will draw upon over a dozen such scholarly studies, conducted from the 1940s onward, to show that the main factor behind Parsi population decline has not been intermarriage or migration to the West but, rather, abysmally low rates of marriage and childbirth. The Parsis’ propensity to marry late, or not marry at all, has caused one of the most dramatic population falls outside of Europe and Japan.
About the speaker: Dinyar Patel is a Ph.D. candidate in History at Harvard University.

In Time Out Mumbai, Nergish Sunavala explores the importance of getting married young.

Twenty-nine-year-old Dinyar Patel, a PhD candidate in the history department of Harvard University, doesn’t seem like your average matchmaker. Yet he is urging everyone in the Parsi community to actively set up their single friends and relatives. He’s even given to quoting a Zoroastrian text that says, “Helping to bring about a marriage is considered a highly meritorious act.” Patel’s call to play Cupid is a response to the rapid fall in India’s Parsi population. The 2001 census showed that the community had shrunk to 69,601 members, down from 115,000 people in 1941.


A major reason for the decline is a drop in fertility rates caused by Parsis marrying late, said Patel, who will offer a historical perspective on the shrinking community at the Nehru Centre this fortnight. The median age of marriage among Indian Parsi women is 27, while it is 31 for men, according to a recent study by the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai. “A lot of people think that the Parsis are predisposed to infertility,” said Patel. “There is no evidence of that. The reason is we are marrying late.”

Patel started looking at the statistics after he realised that many in his community refused to accept the reality of its numerical decline. Some Parsis believe that their global population is stable and that numbers have only been dropping in India because of migration to the West. Others believe that the population is increasing. Frustrated that studies by demographers like Paul Axelrod, JK Banthia and Leela Visaria were gathering dust in various archives, Patel took on the job of analysing the data himself. It clearly showed that the community’s most acute problem is that Parsis marry late – or don’t marry at all, he said.

One out of every five Indian Parsi men, and one out of every ten women is still unmarried by the age of 50, according to a 2009 study conducted by Sayeeda Unisa, a professor of demography and statistics at the IIPS. Staying single isn’t only an urban trend. A study conducted in rural Gujarat found that 13 to 55 per cent of Parsi women were unmarried even in their fifties. “In India, there is a lot of pressure on people to get married, but it is amazing how little pressure exists within the Parsi community,” said Patel. “The idea of the Parsi bachelor or spinster is a cultural staple.”

The reasons for late or no marriage vary: from lack of affordable housing to difficulty finding the right partner to a desire to finish one’s education. But other highly educated communities are not on the brink of extinction. “The Saraswat Brahmins and the Jains are very educated, they live in the cities, they are concentrated in places like Mumbai where it is difficult to get housing, yet they are still getting married by a certain age and having children,” said Patel.

Other causes of population decline, which Patel considers less important, are emigration, intermarriage and conversion. Emigration is certainly an obvious factor. Today, Parsis are settled across the globe from Australia to Canada. However, since the world Parsi population has also fallen – from about 131,200 in the 1960s to around 116,900 today – emigration alone can’t account for the decline in India, Patel said. As for conversion, it is not much of a factor, according to Patel, since there is little data to prove that many Parsis are converting to other faiths and Mumbai’s Parsi community doesn’t allow outsiders to convert to Zoroastrianism.

Intermarriage is the most controversial factor. There has been much debate within the community about whether it should accept children from mixed marriages. In Mumbai, the rate of intermarriage was around 31 per cent in 2005. Figures elsewhere in India are higher. But even if children from mixed marriages were accepted in the Parsi community, Patel said, numbers wouldn’t increase dramatically. He cited a study which showed that the difference would only be a little over a thousand in population projections for 2051.

Because of news reports on mass conversion in Russia, many Parsis believe Zoroastrianism will live on in Central Asia. But the reports are mostly untrue, Patel said.India will have only 32,000 Parsis in India by 2051, according to Unisa’s study. In addition to playing matchmaker for one’s Parsi friends, Patel suggests a number of obvious measures young Parsis can take to avert this disaster like marrying young and having children. Patel applauds efforts by community groups to organise matrimonial meetings and provide housing to young couples hoping to start families. But, he said, many more resources have to be allocated for these efforts if the community wants to survive