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Why is India’s Parsi community going extinct?

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It is a welcome decision of the Indian government to fund new fertility clinics to help save its dwindling Parsi population which is now under threat of extinction. The Parsis should be grateful that the Indian government actually cares about preserving their community and is even on board monetarily to reverse the decline. The government has also launched a scheme called ‘Jiyo Parsi’ in order to reverse the declining trend of Parsi population.

The Parsis are an illustrious community and their contribution to India and its development is starkly out of proportion to their tiny numbers. Today they are one of India’s most successful communities with Parsi figures playing leading roles in commerce, politics, the military and entertainment industry. Their numbers have declined by 12 per cent every census decade — India’s population increases by 21 per cent. The birth rate of the Parsis has dropped dramatically to below replacement levels. They are projected to plummet to 23,000 in the near future, reducing this sophisticated, urbane community to a “tribe”. India’s Parsis have been facing a relentless demographic decline. In the decade till 2011, when the last national census was held, their numbers fell from 69,601 to 57,264. Their numbers have been falling every decade since 1941, when it had reached a peak of more than 1,00,000. Between 1971 and 1981 it fell by 20 per cent, the sharpest decline till the latest decennial count.

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. The average age of marriage for Parsi women is 29-30 and 35 for men. Fertility rates have fallen below viable levels; only one in nine wholly Parsi families has a child under age 10. Thirty per cent of the community never marries. Many girls marry outside the community and so they and their children are not considered Parsis. One in every 10 women and one in every five men remains unmarried by age 50.

Depression among the elderly people, migration to foreign countries and the drastic decline in fertility — after three decades, their population is estimated to fall to 40,000. Their numbers are down to a critical 61,000, and diminishing by the day; another 40,000 are scattered across the world with an even greater struggle to hang on to their distinctive identity. Since 2001, the Parsi population has declined to 57,264, an approximate 18 per cent drop from 69,601. The tradition of marrying only within the community resulted in large numbers of people remaining unmarried in the 70s and 80s. According to an estimate, close to 30 per cent of Parsis in the bigger cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Pune are marrying outside the community. Time has now come when cognizant effort is needed by the young Parsi generation to make a change in their socio-psychological attitude. They should get married early at the right time and should not delay the birth of children for the sake of better careers.

Published on Afternoon