Not much is known about what can be done to check the dwindling number of Parsis. There has been much concern, even heartburn, but solutions have proved elusive. But the Centre has decided to step in and address the issue agitating the small, but talented community by announcing a scheme dedicated to their welfare.
This time around, the Union budget has actually made a modest allocation of Rs 1 crore for “containing population decline of small minority communities”. Even though there is no clarity on just how the government is going to go about discharging its onerous task, its intent seems strong.
Minority affairs minister Salman Khursheed will soon meet Parsi representatives to seek definite suggestions on to help conserve the community. Khursheed told TOI, “There is no plan yet. I really cannot say how can we help. It is something the community has to do itself but we can help preserve heritage and culture which helps ease pressure on members.”
If the tricky question defies readymade answers, the government feels it has socio-cultural sensitivities which cannot be ignored. Hence the scheme.
Parsis are one of the five nationally notified minorities. Their number is estimated around 70,000, a threatening drift towards extinction. Besides being one element of India’s diversity, the Parsi faith has immense heritage value. Zoroastrianism goes back 2,500 years with roots in Persia. The followers are said to have set foot in Gujarat in the 10th century with most now settled in Mumbai where they have played a key role in science, society, business, art and culture. The community took up the English game called cricket which has since metamorphosed into a `religion’ in India.
Over time, the existential issue has turned out to be a riddle without easy solutions. The issues related to dwindling population are as ticklish like exclusion from community of a Parsi girl marrying a non-Parsi, high divorce rates and a growing geriatric population. A Parsi group met Khursheed sometime back to brainstorm but, as the minister says, “they have not suggested anything on checking population decline”.
They, however, spoke about faith-related issues — last rites, availability of priests — which are discouraging followers. While the falling vulture flock makes `towers of silence’ an impractical idea, the option of burial is made difficult by absence of graveyards. The community built the best of educational institutions but is ironically facing difficulties in admissions.
The ministry, however, is preparing a plan to rescue dying languages, for which a scheme has been announced in the budget. Khursheed said his ministry plans to encourage work in these rare languages by giving scholars a priority in fellowships.
The linguistic minorities involve languages spoken largely in the hills and in the north-east among small groups or pockets of a district. “Research fellowships for vulnerable languages is a good idea,” he said.