Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Dinshaw Tamboly: Decline of the Parsee Community In India

The Parsees, a proud community, having impressive resources, is perhaps one of the smallest communities in India if not the smallest. As per the 2001 Census of India the number of Parsee’s in India had been computed at 69,601 only, which is undoubtedly a drop in the ocean of India as a whole.

By Dinshaw Kaiki Tamboly

The birth of the 7,000,000,000th (seven billionth) child on our planet on 31st October 2011 and thinking of this number vis-à-vis the number of Parsees in India (69,601 as per the 2001 census) and all over the world (estimated to be around 120,000) was the motivation of this treatise.

Out of the 7 billion inhabitants on the planet, 1.2 billion are known to live in India.

Whilst the community-wise census figures as per 2011 Census of India are yet to be released, the trend suggests that amongst Parsees there will be decline of at-least 10% every decade.

On the basis of world population (7,000,000,000), Parsees residing all over the world (120,000) account for 0.0017% of the world population.

On the basis of the population of India (1,200,000,000), Parsees residing there (69,601) account for 0.0058% of the population of India.

Whilst the number of Parsees is indeed insignificant, their contribution to the development of India has been substantial. Paradoxically, the successes achieved by our community appear to be threatening our very survival. The story of Parsees today is that of a people driving themselves to extinction. Whilst a section of the community is in denial mode about this dilemma, the steep decline of around 10% or more in subsequent decades is catastrophic and can only lead to near disappearance.

The community numbers as per the 2011 census when released will tell its own story. The most serious problem that our community is beset with is the problem of falling numbers which needs to be earnestly addressed and corrective action taken.

Based on a 10% decrease every decade, the Parsee race in India will come down to 41,099 by 2050 and 24,268 by 2100.

If one calculates the depletion @ 12% per decade, the figures can be 36,730 by 2050 and 19,382 by 2100.

The decimation of numbers will in all probability accelerate in the years to come as the 2001 census has identified 24.1% of Parsees to be above 65 years of age.

Factors contributing to falling numbers:

  1. Deaths outnumber births.
  1. The community has an unusually large number of men & women who prefer to remain single. The community also has unusually high instances of late marriages. Even in couples who are economically well placed one finds the desire to restrict the number of children to one or maximum two.

Being a highly literate (nearly 100%) community, the focus of young women & men is to opt for higher education levels, preferring late marriages, couples choosing to earn double incomes (both spouses working) rather than starting families.

The priorities of the youth are:

Ø Keen to get higher education.

Ø Establish their careers and be well settled in life before even thinking of matrimony leading to either a late marriage or remaining single.

Further:

Ø Those who marry tend to have fewer children.

(For a community that is minuscule to begin with, even a few hundred youth choosing not to have children or restricting the size of their families makes a big impact on the future demographic trend of the community).

  1. Perhaps, on account of the predominant inbreeding within the community over the last few centuries, or for whatever other reason, the rate of infertility is exceptionally high. This coupled with late marriages as mentioned (in 2) above has contributed towards minimal births in the community.
  1. Migration by youth – the academically inclined and talented youth of the community opt to enrol in overseas universities for higher education mainly due to their being unable to procure admission on merit in Indian universities, due to the seat reservation policies. This also contributes towards a brain drain from the country and accounts for a shift in numbers to outside India.
  1. Housing and migration into Mumbai are two interlinked issues.

a. Mumbai is undoubtedly the city of dreams that provides opportunities to all those who reside in it. For Parsees residing in Mumbai, the benefit is double. In addition to opportunities that the metropolis provides, the benevolence of a plethora of Trusts & philanthropists make available multifarious benefits towards their welfare.

No community in Mumbai provides decent subsidised housing facilities to their members on the scale that Parsees enjoy.

In spite of the massive housing facilities made available by various Trusts, the pressures to create additional housing infrastructure results in long waiting lists of applicants, adding to the malaise of late marriages and consequently fewer births.

b. Mumbai has various institutions of learning in all known disciplines. Parsee youth residing in smaller cities and towns, prefer to pursue education at Mumbai, after which they are reluctant to move back to their origins, thereby creating pressures on subsidised community housing provided by various community Trusts. This results in many of the youth not being able to find suitable accommodation whereby they are unable to plan for marriage and raise families.

c. Many Parsees residing outside Mumbai, especially from Gujarat, migrate to Mumbai seeking better job opportunities and subsidised community housing. Inability to quickly procure subsidised community housing, they are unable to provide their children with an adequate life style resulting in their adolescent children not being able to plan for their future (marriage / raising families).

[Between 1901 and 2001 (100 years), whilst there was a depletion of 25,309 in the all India number of Parsees, there was actually a marginal increase of 326 in the number of Parsees residing in Mumbai. This should serve to establish the ongoing influx into Mumbai].

  1. Parsees were perhaps the first amongst Indian communities to introduce education and empowerment amongst their women and showcase them as their most distinctive strength.

[It is ironical that there should be a gender bias by way of ecclesiastical decree whereby children of Parsee women married to men of other communities are not accepted within the community fold].

Strangely, in an era of ‘equal opportunities’ there is no such decree on men who marry outside the community or on their children.

Are there any possible remedies?

There are no problems that do not have solutions. However, what is very important is for the Parsee community to demonstrate that it has realised that the community is on its way to near extinction and are serious about taking corrective action. In all likelihood, whilst many within the community are aware of the crisis situation, the regrettable part is that no individual or institution has shown the inclination to dispassionately address such a critical issue.

If any race wishes to survive, it is necessary that it must first display that it has the will to do so.

It is considered to be a national calamity if 12% of the population of any country is more than 60 years of age. Japan has 10% of those over 60 years of age, whilst Canada has 12% in this category. Both these countries have undertaken measures to increase their populace.

Whilst India has less than 5% of the population over 60 years, the Parsee community, an integral part of India, has 24.1% of their members over 65 years of age, probably the highest ratio anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the Parsee community has not taken serious heed of this startling reality nor undertaken any corrective measures.

There is no remedy to reverse the biological process of aging. Parsees are known to have higher longevity than other communities in India, (24.1% of Parsees being above 65 years of age); however, when this generation of ‘elders’ born in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s pass on, the intensity of our depleting numbers will be even more rapid.

With the Parsees having long gone beyond the point of no return towards biologically increasing their numbers, unless each couple begets 4 or more children – which does not seem practical, the immediate initiative should be to contain the falling numbers and stabilise them at the present levels.

This too may prove to be a tall order, for even to achieve the task of stabilising numbers at present level, the options available within the present framework of the community’s social structure and religious acceptability are extremely limited.

Only three extremely modest possibilities appear to be available:

  1. To combat the low birth rate, a pioneering initiative was taken in January 2004 at Mumbai by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet of extending financial support towards fertility treatment for young couples who could not conceive. This initiative had yielded encouraging results. As per a recent report (February 2012) in the community media it was mentioned that since the project was introduced in April 2004, clinically assisted pregnancy has occurred in 222 of the couples treated.

The logical step would therefore be for local leadership in all cities wherever there is a fair sprinkling of youth to introduce fertility treatment for young couples.

  1. Parsee youth who do not get admissions to educational institutions in spite of obtaining high percentages in their examinations prefer to study overseas for which they have to avail of loans. After completion of studies students prefer to stay on overseas to pay off the loans they have taken. This leads to the cascading effect of a young qualified youth holding a good job not keen to return to India after completion of their studies. This also adds to brain drain from the country.

The Parsi Member of the Minorities Commission should be requested to pursue this with the Government and request that it should be made mandatory to provide between 3% to 5% seat reservations for Parsee students in educational institutions established by Parsees, but where the administration of the institution is no longer in their hands.

  1. Focus on improving the lifestyle of the elders (shelter, food and clothing) which would act as reassurance to the youth that a support mechanism exists to make the evening of their lives comfortable, thereby motivating them to concentrate not only on career opportunities but also on starting families.

Shelter, food and clothing for those in need can and should be achieved by harnessing the vast resources existing within the community, known for its philanthropy through Trusts, individuals and companies.

In addition to the above, concerted efforts should be undertaken at community level creating awareness about the seriousness of the situations that are leading Parsees towards extinction. The Parsee media should regularly highlight this in a responsible way.

The Parsees of India, have over the years, insulated themselves into a very closely knit, inwardly focussed community as far as marriages are concerned.

The Parsee clergy in India propounds that one must be born into the faith (preferably of both Parsee parents) to be considered and accepted as Parsees. Such an ecclesiastical decree aimed at preserving the ‘purity’ of the race, coupled with the demographic mix indeed makes the enterprise of stabilising the numbers at their present levels even more daunting.

In Conclusion:

As a member of the Parsee community, concerned about the issue of falling numbers, the purpose of this treatise has been to objectively analyse the various issues that have contributed towards the falling numbers of Parsees.

The solution to the vexed problem of rapidly diminishing numbers is not one that requires only infusion of funds but also that of the willingness of the mind to realise reality and read the clear writing on the wall.

The issue needs to be addressed through the collective wisdom of the Parsee community, its rank & file, community leadership and religious leadership to determine and decide whether they wish to continue on the path towards extinction or whether they have the inclination, maturity and foresight to make adjustments as may be required for the survival of the race.

Annexure 1

Census – 2001 Parsees

Figures as per Census of India: 1901 – 2001

Year

India

%age

Mumbai

%age

1901

94,910

 

46,231

 

1911

100,096

+5.5

50,931

+10.2

1921

101,778

+1.7

52,234

+2.6

1931

109,752

+7.8

57,765

+10.6

1941

114,890

+4.7

59,813

+3.5

1951

111,791

-3.7

68,660

+14.8

1961

100,772

-9.9

70,065

+2.1

1971

91,378

-9.3

64,667

-7.7

1981

71,630

-21.6

50,053

-22.6

1991

76,382

+6.6

53,794

+7.5

2001

69,601

-8.9

46,557

-13.5

Difference

Between

1901-2001

-25,309

-26.67

+326

+0.7

The excess of deaths over birth in the last 5 decades in Mumbai also shows how critical the situation actually is :

Year Births Deaths Excess

1955 788 878 90

1965 856 1,037 181

1975 576 1,010 434

1985 601 966 365

1995 367 936 569

2002 300 858 558

I) According to the 2001 Census Report, the Parsi population in India has been computed to be 69,601.

II) The major concentrations are in:-

(a) Mumbai / Thane regions : 46,000

(b) Pune : 10,000

(c) Ahmedabad : About 1,500

(d) Surat : About 3,500

(e) Navsari : About 2,000

(f) Baroda : About 2,000

(g) Kolkata : 600

(h) Jamshedpur : 250

(i) Bangalore : 800

(j) Chennai : 400

(k) Delhi : 800

(l) Hyderabad / Secunderabad : 1,500

(m) Other locations : 250

III) Overseas Population (Estimated):

1) Pakistan : 2,200

2) Iran : 20,000 (According to Tehran

and Yezd Anjumans) though its

Government puts it at over 50,000.

3) UK : 5,000

4) North America : 18,000

(USA + Canada)

5) Australia & New Zealand : 2,000

6) Singapore : 120

7) Hongkong / Macau : 120

8) South Africa : 40

9) Sri Lanka : Under 100

10) Dubai : About 1,500

11) Middle East : About 2,500

IV) Emigration Patterns:

(a) The first wave of emigration started, really to Britain (95% of it to London and its 25 Home Counties) soon after World War II. Many Parsees who fought for the Crown stayed back. Until 5 – 7 years ago, the population was believed to be 5,000 – 6,000 plus.

(b) The next major wave was to Canada, and it persisted for nearly 30 years, swelling the Canadian Parsi population to about 10,000.

(c) The third major wave went to the US – almost all of them either technocrats or academics.

(d) In the last 10 years, with the liberalisation of immigration patterns in both Australia and New Zealand, around 2,000 Parsees have now migrated to these countries.

Annexure 2

Projections of decline based on 10% & 12% reduction every decade based on 2001 census figures:

Year

Projected Numbers

@ 10% decline

Projected Numbers

@12% decline

2001

69,601

69,601

2011

62,641

61,249

2021

56,377

53,899

2031

50,739

47,431

2041

45,665

41,739

2051

41,099

36,730

2061

36,989

32,322

2071

33, 290

28,443

2081

29,961

25,030

2091

26,965

22,026

2101

24,268

19,382