Plan to boost Parsi numbers falters

 

IMRAN AHMED SIDDIQUI

New Delhi, Aug. 9: A central scheme for sponsored fertility treatment among Parsis to arrest their dwindling numbers has found no takers, prompting plans for a new strategy that includes taking the help of community leaders.

Author: Imran Ahmed Siddiqui Source: The TELEGRAPH INDIA

 

According to the 2001 census, India has around 60,000 Parsis, among whom the death rate is three times the birth rate. In Calcutta, their numbers have dwindled by more than half in three decades, from 1,600 in the 1980s to around 700 now.

Under the scheme, the government pays for the treatment for childless married couples if both husband and wife are Parsis.

But not a single couple has come forward to avail of the much-hyped scheme — the first such plan for any community in the country — since its launch last year. Parsis live mostly in Mumbai, Gujarat and Calcutta.

“Not one Parsi couple has shown any interest in the scheme. We had expected a good response,” said a senior official of the minority affairs ministry.

The Planning Commission had cleared the scheme last October and made allocations for it under the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2012-17). A sum of Rs 2 crore was set aside for the first year (2012-13).

Minority affairs minister K. Rahman Khan said on Tuesday that the Centre was now planning to devise a strategy to make the scheme popular among the community.

“We are holding talks with Keki N. Daruwalla, who is a member of the National Commission for Minorities, to suggest ways of making the scheme a success. The scheme will be re-launched after consultation with community leaders,” Khan told The Telegraph.

Daruwalla, a Parsi, represents the community in the minorities commission.

The minister said the community was staring at extinction and urgently needed to take an interest in the fertility scheme, being implemented through the Union health ministry.

“We are in touch with the health ministry, which will soon set up health camps in Parsi-concentrated areas. We will also draft community leaders in to make it a success,” Khan said.

The ministry had set up camps in Gujarat and Maharashtra but did not get any response.

Ambarish Kumar, adviser to the Planning Commission, said the scheme would yield results only if childless Parsi couples came forward.

“I think more awareness programmes are needed,” he said.

Kumar added that the large number of unmarried men and women in the community too was a worry.

A survey conducted in 2011 by the minority affairs ministry had revealed that migration, late marriages or none at all, and declining fertility were the main reasons behind the fall in Parsis’ numbers.

According to the survey, the average number of births per year in the community has never crossed 200 since 2001, when 223 Parsi babies were born.

About 30 per cent of Parsis remain single; another 30 per cent are aged above 60 years. Among Parsis who marry, 35 per cent choose partners from other communities.

If a Parsi woman marries outside the community, her child is not considered a Parsi but if a Parsi man weds a non-Parsi, their child qualifies.

“Community leaders are being persuaded to change this long-running convention,” a minority ministry official said.

In 2010, the Planning Commission had rejected a proposal from the minority affairs ministry to sponsor fertility treatment for Parsis, saying it could set a precedent for other groups. But it cleared the scheme last year after going through the survey report on the declining numbers in the community.