It’s not so much the elephant in the room, no one wants to acknowledge, but rather the unicorn they all imagine-that the global Parsi population isn’t so desperately in decline, but that it has somehow miraculously ballooned to four million.
Rubbish, was the emphatic denial of Dinyar Patel, a California-born, PhD candidate in history at Harvard University, who held his largely Parsi audience at Nehru Centre in thrall last evening, when he catalogued for them empirical evidence of their decline, and warned them of their fall.
Dinyar produced Parsi scholarship and demographic surveys to revisit the crisis of the falling numbers of Indian Parsisfamiliar crisis of the Indian Parsis’ falling numbers, while positing more tenable theories for their attenuation than widely-circulated myths about migration and marriage outside the community.
According to Dinyar (and culled from research by demographers like Paul Axelrod, JK Banthia and Leela Visaria), the population is shrinking because of late / no marriages and resultant low fertility rates and low birth rates. He called upon alerting statistics. “One out of five Indian Parsi men and one out of 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 International Institute for Population Sciences ( IIPS), in Mumbai. The median age of marriage among Indian Parsi women is 27, while it is 31 for men,” he said.
The median age of the whole community in 1901 was 24, while the comparable age in 1999 was 48, indicating at a distinctly aging population, a substantial portion of which prefers to remain single. Apparently, Parsis have the highest number of single women in the world.
Dinyar alluded to a demographic survey conducted across 6,000 Parsi households, where interestingly, 81% believed that intermarriage was responsible for falling figures, followed by emigration. It implies a dissonance between scholarship and popular notion, he said. Dinyar quoted another survey that suggested that even if all children born of intermarriage are counted as Parsis, it still wouldn’t benefit the numbers noticeably.
While the population of Parsis in India is estimated to be 69,601, the global count roughly stands between 1,12,367 and 1,21,367-not even the size of a Mumbai neighbourhood, Dinyar pointed out.
He believes an answer lies in the prompt reconciliation of liberal and conservative stands in the matter of intermarriage, and a redoubling of efforts, not only to get more Parsis to marry, but to conceive. “And if all else fails,” pitched a valiant lady in the gallery, “perhaps even institute sperm and egg banks.” It’s radical but, perhaps, requisite.