Marry, live in joint families: Minority panel to Parsis


April 10, 2008

The clock is ticking away fast and furious for India’s Parsi community. Alarmed by their dwindling numbers – as per the last census the Parsi population was less than 70,000 – the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has swung into action. The NCM intends to encourage timely marriages and the joint family spirit among Parsis as non-marriage, falling fertility and separation are some of the leading causes behind the decline in their population.

“We want to help them in checking the decreasing numbers,” NCM chairperson Mohammad Shafi Qureshi told IANS. He said Mehroo Dhunjisha Bengalee, a Parsi commission member, was coordinating with community leaders.

The panel took this mission upon itself after its survey found that only 99 childbirths took place in the community last year till August 2007. In 2002, 206 births were reported across the country and the figure came down to 174 in 2006.

History has it that around 18,000 Parsis, who are Zoroastrian by faith, fled to India from Persia during the Arab-Muslim war over 1,000 years ago and settled in Gujarat. Over the years, the community made a name for itself in entrepreneurship.

But not all is well with them today.

“Our number is steeply going down, and the trend has to be reversed. The panel is willing to join community leaders in saving them from almost extinction in India,” said Bengalee, who is a former vice-chancellor of the University of Mumbai.

The survey commissioned by the minority panel found that late marriage or none at all, fertility decline, emigration, out marriages and separation are the main causes behind the declining numbers of Parsis in India.

As per Census 2001, Parsis number 69,601 in the country, while other minority groups are much higher in number like Jains 4.2 million, Buddhists 7.9 million, Sikhs 19 million and Christians 24 million. Muslims being the largest minority community in India accounts for 13.8 percent of the total population of over one billion.

During 1991-2001, the growth rate was 36 percent among Muslims, 24.5 percent among Buddhists and 22.6 percent among Sikhs, while the Parsi population declined by 8.88 percent, says the census report.

The NCM intends to encourage the minority community to foster the spirit of joint family, encourage timely marriages, check divorces and increase intensive post-marriage family interaction countrywide, particularly in Mumbai, where a sizable number of Parsis live in India.

While they are mainly concentrated in Maharashtra and Gujarat, they also have a presence in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

“Though late marriages and divorces are some of the known causes of the decreasing number of Parsis in India, what is lacking is the zeal of entrepreneurship,” she said.

“The urge for early employment and strengthened family ties to live together and lead the Zoroastrian way of life, knitted in good thoughts, is also missing.”

Though Bengalee does not keep good health, she is making a big effort to help increase the Parsi population. She has sent copies of the survey to community leaders with an appeal to them for “uniting and living up to their great heritage”.

“I want them to debate at their regular meetings with youth and family parents the causes of depleting numbers. Many of them remain unmarried for want of a good match, and many migrate to Australia, New Zealand, the US, England and Canada and settle there,” she said.

In order to discourage the tendency of family planning among Parsis, the Parsi panchayat in Mumbai provides all financial support to rear the third children onwards.

“Parents do not need to spend any money on their upbringing and education. The panchayat does the needful. Such measures are making a difference. Still, community efforts are required,” Bengalee said.

Original article here.