Dr Shernaz Cama: Armchair criticism for Jiyo Parsi uncalled for

Advertisments encouraging Parsi couples to have more kids have been called ‘regressive’

Following criticism from several quarters on the government-backed Jiyo Parsi advertisements being ‘regressive’ and in ‘poor taste’, its creators have replied saying the shrinking community doesn’t need ‘armchair critics’.

Article by Jyoti Shelar | The Hindu

Dr Shernaz Cama, director, Parzor, a project to preserve Parsi Zoroastrian heritage that implements Jiyo Parsi on behalf of the government, told The Hindu on Tuesday that it’s too early in the day to dismiss the campaign without considering results. The Jiyo Parsi advertisement campaign has been hotly debated within the community and outside it since its launch on July 29.

She said, “The criticism is coming from a section of the community, mainly women who have married outside [the community]. But Jiyo Parsi as an institution has no view on the debate over Parsis marrying into other communities. The focus of the ad campaign has been completely shifted by this section.”

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Dr. Cama said the Jiyo Parsi scheme was conceived as a response to the urgent demographic crisis that the community faces: from a population of 1,14,890 in 1941, its numbers have dwindled to 57,264 as per the 2011 Census. “After the scheme was implemented, an 18% rise in population has been recorded in three years, with 108 births,” she said.

The campaign is in its second phase (the first was launched in 2014) and consists of 12 print ads to be released on August 17, the Parsi New Year, in community newspapers, magazines and a city-based tabloid. Parsis have expressed surprise at how the advertisements focus on pushing couples to have more children in an overpopulated country, and disgust at the labelling of the elderly and single as people who can’t enjoy life. Some have also criticised the government providing ₹10 crore for the scheme.

“The government funds schemes for all minorities. It was the Ministry of Minority Affairs that came up with the idea of Jiyo Parsi to protect our numbers. It is churlish to grudge the ₹10 crore to a community that has never taken government funding before this,” said Dr. Cama. “We are not forcing people to get married or have babies; we’re simply helping couples who wish to have a family and require treatment.”

In addition to the medical treatment, which takes up the bulk of the funding, a social advocacy programme has been started recently. These ads specifically target the Parsi community, and encourage them to settle into married life at an age below the present average. “They sometimes make for difficult viewing, but that is because they tell hard truths when viewed in their correct context within the Parsi community. It is hoped that through this social advocacy, Parsis will marry at an earlier age, which will help boost the total fertility rate (TFR),” she said, adding there has also been criticism that only women are being regressively focused upon in the ads. “But seven of the 12 ads feature men as fathers and in other family circumstances. Equal attention has been given to issues facing men and women.”

A study by Harvard-based researchers in 2011 had concluded that the reason for this precipitous decline in population was an abysmally low TFR of 0.89 children per couple on average in the community. Intermarriage and other factors were negligible when discussing the population decline, the low TFR being the most significant culprit.