India’s Parsis told to have more children in controversial campaign
A campaign in India to encourage more of its dwindling Parsi community to have children – ‘Be responsible: Don’t use a condom’ – is ridiculed on social media
By Harriet Alexander | The Telegraph
A series of adverts designed to encourage members of India‘s Parsi community to have more children has been widely lampooned, with a series of parodies being created to mock the scheme.
The campaign is designed to encourage Parsis – followers of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster, who believe in one God and in the power of the elements – to have more children, and combat the long-term decline in their population.
The Parsi community in India has declined from 114,000 people in 1941 to 61,000 people by 2001. More disturbingly, for every 800 deaths there are now only 200 births in the community.
“Zoroastrianism, which was once the religion of millions in pre-Islamic Persia, now has less than 140,000 followers in the world and one third of this number is aged above 60,” said Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian president, last year. “This is certainly a phenomenon that needs to be addressed – very pragmatically and sensitively.”
As a result, a group of Parsi community organisations have this week launched a campaign, funded by the ministry of minority affairs, to encourage early marriage and large families.
“Be responsible – don’t use a condom tonight,” reads one advert.
Another, referencing the cultural tendency for young men to live with their parents until adulthood, said: “Isn’t it time you broke up with your Mum?”
Another reads: “We’re superior. We’re cultured. We’re educated. We’re about to be extinct. Get married early, have babies early.”
Dr Shernaz Cama, director of the Unesco PARZOR Project, which is implementing the scheme along with a number of community organisations, told The Times of India that the adverts weren’t meant to cause offence.
“We aren’t trying to say that we are superior. That is just a joke,” said Dr Cama. “We regard every culture as equal but equally distinct.”
While India’s population has more than tripled in the last 60 years, the number of Parsis has fallen by almost 40 per cent.
Besides the advertising campaign, the scheme also counsels Parsi couples on the importance of having multiple children at a young age and urges them to diagnose and treat infertility. Its medical component offers treatments like IVF free of charge to poorer couples.
But the campaign was quickly ridiculed on social media, especially coming the week after India’s policy of mass sterilisations was cast into the spotlight, following the deaths of 15 young women at a sterilisation camp in Bilaspur.
“I’m not a Parsee but the #JiyoParsi campaign offends me. Why not promote intercommunity marriages instead of urging rabbit-like procreation?” wrote one person.
Others photoshopped a poster which warns that “Hindus will take over” – repurposing it to read “Disney will take over”.
One commentator on The Times of India website wrote: “It’s actually rather insulting to treat them as one would an endangered species, to be conserved by busybody governments.”
It is not the first time such initiatives have been attempted. In 2012, the government of Maharastra – which includes Mumbai, where the majority of the Parsee community is based – began offering free fertility treatment.