Come Sunday and the 500-odd Parsis in Kolkata will get together for a special workshop on problems faced by the community, one of the smallest in the country.
This is an initiative by Jiyo Parsi, an effort by the ministry of minority affairs to arrest the decline in the population of Parsis in India. The workshop will be on ‘Family Life in Modern Times’, followed by a presentation by Jiyo Parsi. Such workshops are being held at all locations across the country with sizable Parsi populations. A report will then be prepared and submitted to the ministry for further action.
“After the 2001 census, it was realized that the Parsi population has come down drastically in India over the last 50 years. We felt that something needed to be done to get community members to have more children. A lot of research was carried out to ascertain the causes. Much of this was done at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Studies were conducted on subjects like community elders, family structures, what the Parsi youth does for a living and disease. The findings and recommendations were handed over to the Bombay Parsi Panchayat, an apex body of the community, and certain measures were taken. For the next few years, financial encouragement was given to those going in for a second or third child. In five years, a few hundred babies were born. This isn’t a mean feat for such a small community. We then went to the ministry and a five year project was granted,” said Dr Katy Gandevia of TISS and project co-ordinator, Jiyo Parsi.
During research, it had been found that the age of marriage is a major factor in declining population. According to Gandevia, women in the 100% literate community are allowed the same opportunities as men and lead independent lives. By the time they decide to settle down, they have few reproductive years left. Some women don’t even marry because of this. Jiyo Parsi first launched a campaign to urge women to settle down earlier and go for children.
“Another problem is that Parsis live longer. In many families, a member remains unmarried to look after the elders. Then, there was the belief that more children will lead to expenses. Parsis are used to the best in life and hope to give their children the same. We tried to resolve these issues,” she added. This was only part of the job. The most important step taken was to financially assist older couples to have children.
“There are many who say they don’t need financial support. We then urge them to help other couples. The Parsis are a very self-respecting community that has never sought anything like reservation from the government. While providing financial support, we also attempt to allay fears that such couples have about whether they would be able to give their children proper educational opportunities. In a little over two years now, we have seen nearly 60 babies born through this project. Some twins were also born,” Gandevia, who will be in Kolkata on Sunday said. She will be accompanied by Pearl Mistry, another counselor for Jiyo Parsi.
According to Viroo Medhora from the Parsi Zoroastrian Association in Kolkata: “The highlights of the workshop are understanding our loved ones, fitness and work life balance, education and career for the youth, scholarships, education loans, childcare, birth rate and infertility among other things. All this will be in form of games, worksheets, role plays involving entire community regardless of age, for a lot of fun and learning. A powerpoint presentation will also be made to encourage participants to think out of the box for solutions and ideas to be used as feedback to the ministry for issues dealt by them.”