The Eternal Flame of the Zoroastrians is Dying Out in Pakistan

KARACHI – With the emigration of its youth to safer and more prosperous countries, and a low birth rate, the eternal flame of the Zoroastrians, or Parsis as they are better known, is dying out after burning bright in Pakistan for almost a thousand years.

That the age of splendor of the Parsis is fading in the country is evident by the very few shops that sell Irani tea or even Iranian restaurants in the city currently.

Around 7,000 Parsis were living in Karachi after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, when the city had less than half a million inhabitants.

Today, only 1,380 of the 20 million inhabitants of Karachi are Parsis, and most of them over 60 years old.

The Parsis built companies, buildings, hospitals, universities and charitable foundations and gained influence in the country, which is now on the wane.

The community that set foot on the Indian subcontinent over a millennium ago, fleeing religious persecution in Persia, is now emigrating to Occidental countries in search of a more prosperous future far away from the violence in Pakistan.

Burjise Bhada, the priest of the 147-year-old Wadia Agiary temple, exemplifies the gradual disappearance of the followers of Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest religions, founded 3,700 years ago in present-day Iran.

“They brought me from India due to a shortage of Parsi priests in Pakistan,” says the 37-year-old, who is originally from Bombay, where most of the 140,000 Parsis now remaining in the world, live.

Bhada, one of the three priests remaining in the two Parsi temples of Karachi and married to a young Pakistani girl from the community, also wants to emigrate to the United States.

In Pakistan, violence against religious minorities have also increased lately and although the Parsis have not yet been targeted by the extremists owing to their low profile, it doesn’t stop them from feeling vulnerable.

“There is no security, the laws are not implemented, taxes are not paid,” says Sohrab Giara, administrator of the Parsi colony of Avari, where most of the Parsis live.