A vanishing race: Numbers go against India’s Parsis

  • Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 25, 2016 21:10 IST
A Parsi couple walks past relief figures of knights at a Fire Temple after offering prayers on the Parsi New Year 'Navroz' at Tardeo in Mumbai. (Kunal Patil/ HT File Photo)

The Parsis are disappearing.

Their population in India fell by 18% in the 2001-2011 decade and dropped to just a little over 57,000, according to Census 2011 data released on Monday.

The tiniest of India’s religious minorities, Parisis numbered around 69,000 in 2001.

This is the sharpest decline in the community’s population after 1981 when the census reported a 27% fall over the previous decade. In subsequent years, the community was able to slow down the decline but the 2001 headcount indicated that their numbers were falling again.

The earliest Parsis came to the subcontinent more than 1,000 years ago from Persia where they flourished until the advent of Islam.

Over the centuries, they maintained their distinct customs but integrated themselves into Indian society.

Dadabhai Naoroji, one of Mahatma Gandhi’s earliest associates, Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw, legendary for his military exploits, and Homi J Bhabha, often referred to as the father of Indian nuclear science, were Parsis. Yet another, Ratan Tata, who was at the helm of the country biggest business conglomerate, the Tata group, is a household name.

Maharashtra has a Parsi population of 44,854--the highest in any state.. In Delhi, there were just 221.

Many within the community, which boasts of the highest literacy rate and sex ratio, in India have cautioned that Parsis might become extinct if corrective measures are not taken.

“Zoroastrianism will live or die depending on the choices that today’s Parsis and Iranian Zoroastrians make,” said Dinyar Patel, a Parsi research scholar at Harvard University in his 2011 study.

“By continuing with our current behaviour of late marriage, non-marriage, and limited childbirth, we are killing both a community and a religion. And that, I believe, is the greatest tragedy that faces the Parsis of today. It is time for change,” Patel’s cautioned.

Read | The curious case of the vanishing Parsis

The Centre had stepped in with a scheme in September 2013 – “Jiyo Parsi” – to arrest the decline in population after studies revealed that only 1 in 9 Parsi families had a child below 10 years.

The government had counted late marriages and voluntary or involuntary childlessness as important factors for the community’s decline. Deaths have consistently outstripped population replacement rate since the 1950s, possibly due to medical and socio-cultural reason, according to the minority affairs ministry,

As part of this initiative, the government encouraged Parsi married couples to undergo assisted reproductive technologies at nominated clinics.

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