While there’s still time

The government’s Jiyo Parsi campaign aims at stemming the steady decline in Parsi population through advocacy and medical assistance

October 17, 2013 10:39 am | Updated 10:39 am IST

All smiles: Parsi women tend to marry late. In this photograph, Parsi girls greet each other on Navroz, the Parsi New Year.

All smiles: Parsi women tend to marry late. In this photograph, Parsi girls greet each other on Navroz, the Parsi New Year.

Phiroze Kotwal got married when he was 37 years old. He is not an exception. Most Parsis tend to marry late — only after they are well settled in their lives and economically independent.

“Career is a priority for both girls and boys of our community. Having attained a certain level of education and profession, the girls want boys from a higher status and standing if not equal and that leads to late marriages or single status and consequently fewer children. In fact you will hardly find a Parsi couple having more than two children,” Tushna, Phiroze’s wife, says.

The Kotwal couple, who live in Belgaum in Karnataka, has only one son. Tushna feels there are socio-cultural and economic reasons for fewer children than anything else.

Although figures from Census 2011 are not yet available, the population of Parsis declined from 114,000 in 1941 to 69,001 in 2001 according to Census 2001 data.

The studies conducted by the National Commission of Minorities and the joint studies conducted by the Parzor Foundation and Tata Institute of Social Sciences have identified late and non marriages, fertility decline, emigration, marriages outside the community, and separation and divorces as important causes for the decline in the population of Parsis.

“Many girls marry outside the community and so they and their children are not considered Parsis. Also even the spouses of boys who are from other communities are not taken into the Parsi fold though there have been exceptions,” says Tushna.

Executive council member of the Parzor Foundation, Dr. Shernaz Cama, however, says that studies have shown that intermarriages have not helped. Dr. Cama, who is also director, UNESCO Parzor Project, says that children of girls marrying outside the community do not come back to the Parsi community even when they are allowed to because of the prevalence of the patriarchal system.

There are alarming statistics with regard to ‘no marriage’ status. One out of every five Parsi Indian males and one out of 10 Indian Parsi females are unmarried by over 50 years of age. The average age among the Parsi women is 27 years and the men about 31 years. Only one in nine families has a child below the age of 10.

The total fertility rate of the community has reached below one, which in effect means that on average a Parsi woman in her total child-bearing age has less than one child. The statistics also show that 30 per cent of the Parsis are never married and 31 per cent are over 60 years.

The government recently launched a scheme called ‘Jiyo Parsi’ in order to reverse the declining trend of Parsi population. The scheme has adopted a two pronged strategy, advocacy and medical assistance.

The advocacy part includes counselling for early marriage and parenthood at the right time. Dr. Cama says that an All India Advocacy Campaign will be launched soon. She says that social scientist Dr. Zinobia Madan will be training four key deliverers who will be training the volunteers in anjumans and panchayats of States with Parsi population for spreading awareness.

To deal with fertility issues, financial assistance will be provided under the scheme for investigation and detection of infertility, counselling and fertility treatment to couples. List of hospitals and clinics will be empanelled for such treatment, which is usually quite expensive.

During an earlier campaign launched in 2004, Bombay Parsi Panchayat had given financial support to young couples who could not conceive and a 2012 report showed that clinically assisted pregnancies occurred in 222 of the couples treated.

The Parsis came to India sometime around the 10th Century A.D. to escape Arab persecution in Persia which began in the 7th Century. It is feared that the rate at which the Parsi population is declining, their number could be less than 20,000 by the turn of the century.

While hailing the government initiative, Dr. Cama feels that conscious effort by the young Parsi generation will also have to be made to change their socio-psychological attitude. They should get married, she says, at the right time and not delay the birth of children for the sake of better careers.

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