New Delhi, Sep 7 (IANS) — The first official religious census revealed Monday makes exceptional mention of Parsis, fearing “clearly visible but extremely unfortunate decline” of the miniscule community that has produced some of India’s finest in various fields.
According to the census, as of 2001 the Parsi population in India is 69,601 (33,949 males and 35,652 females), nearly 7,000 less than that exactly 10 years ago when it stood at 76,382 (37,736 males and 38,646 females).
“This is a clear visible but extremely unfortunate decline of a rich civilization of Zoroastrians and its people,” the census report observed, giving a wake up call to the government as well as the community.
“Urgent and drastic interventions are required by all concerned including possibly by the government and definitely the Parsi community leaders to ensure survival of Parsi population in India.”
It said before the situation reached a point of no return, the community needed to adopt fertility improvement initiatives rather than fertility control measures.
Phiroz Mehta, a 60-year-old Parsi, said: “We see our dwindling numbers and worry about the future. We are happy to maintain our unique identity, but we want it to grow and flourish.”
The number of older Parsis is much more than the young, and there are more single Parsis, giving credence to the fear that there may be only around 25,000 Parsis in the next two decades.
There are said to be only 130,000 Parsis in the world.
One of India’s most progressive minorities mostly concentrated in Mumbai, Parsis are followers of Zoroaster (Zarathustra) in ancient Persia who migrated to the west coast of India to escape persecution from the conquering Arabs.
The first Parsis came to India in the 8th century. They first landed in Diu near Gujarat where they were welcomed by the Hindu rulers. However, the first Parsi community in Mumbai arrived only in the 17th century when Dorabji Nanabhai settled here in 1640.
The community is very closed and conservative, but among the best educated. The most eminent Parsis India has produced include scientist Homi Bhabha, industrialist J.R.D. Tata and musician Zubin Mehta.
Often likened to the Jews in terms of their cohesiveness and financial acumen, Parsis also enjoy much economic clout with Mumbai’s two biggest industrialist groups, the Tata Group and the Godrej Industries, headed by them.
Said Minu Dastur, a member of the community: “The death rate among Parsis has sharply overtaken the birth rate. However, fewer intra-community marriages are taking place.”
In-breeding was speculated to be one of the reasons why Parsis were a dying race, but the religious elders of the community have zealously guarded its culture and traditions by passing curbs against those marrying outside the religion.
© 2004 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.