Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) is the world’s largest Parsi-Zoroastrian institution. It administers affairs of the Parsi Irani Zoroastrian community. Geetanjali Minhas spoke to its newly elected chairman, Yazdi Desai, on the Jiyo Parsi Scheme and other matters that bother this unique community.
The Jiyo Parsi Scheme (JPS) seems to be bringing cheers to the community. Tell us about its impact.
So far, 100 couples have availed this scheme and 36 children are born, including two pairs of twins. This scheme is doing fine and achieving its objective. However, as against the allocated '10 crore, only a few lakhs have been spent so far.
Who all can take advantage of this scheme, given the strict marriage laws of Parsis?
The JPS follows the definition of Parsi as set by the BPP and the Federation of Parsi Zoroastrians Anjumans in India (FPZAI). A child whose father is a Parsi is considered a Parsi. In India, Parsis are concentrated in Gujarat and Mumbai but a Parsi living in any part of the country can avail this scheme. Workshops are being held for advocacy and to bring about a change in the mindset of Parsi population on helping themselves to reverse the trend of falling population. The community, as such, is forward thinking. We generously thank the government for helping us grow our numbers.
How many Parsi women are expecting at present? How does reimbursement work?
Approximately 10 are expecting their babies. Generally, a couple avails treatment at any fertility clinic – the reimbursement is paid either at the end of treatment or birth of the child.
Couples are given reimbursement even if the treatment does not result in pregnancy. Besides, the BPP has a second and third child scheme whereby it offers '10,000 per month to a couple for producing a third child. The money is given till the child attains adulthood. Nearly 150 couples are availing this scheme at present.
As a community, what are the specific things that are leading to the near extinction of Parsis?
Late marriages, marrying outside the community, not marrying at all are the three main reasons for falling numbers. I think these problems are common in all educated civilisations where people want to be financially sound before getting married and having children. Especially if women of this community get educated they want to pursue a career, postponing marriage. By and large the more a woman is educated; she is more likely to produce fewer children. Some youngsters feel that marriage is an additional responsibility and a big change in one’s life.
Most of our girls and boys live with their parents, lead good lives, have financial support, domestic help and can pursue their careers. They wonder why they should get married. It is difficult to pursuade them to get married. The problem gets magnified because the Parsis are already a small community.
What are the historical and cultural factors for decline in population?
Migration over the years to countries like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Historically, many Parsis had migrated to the UK. Our children go for higher studies abroad and seldom return.
Is India the world headquarters of Parsis?
Yes. There are about 71,000 Parsis in India and 45,000 live in Mumbai. The world over there are 1,25,000 Parsis who mainly live in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and India. All the Agiaries (fire temples), dakhmas (towers of silence), religious institutions, baugs and colonies are in India. There is no consecrated fire temple anywhere else in the world. Now, even in India we cannot consecrate a high status fire temple (Atash Behram) because we don’t have the priests with that level of ritual purity anymore.
How can the government help you more?
The government has been very kind to us with extreme tolerance and non-interference. One example of the government’s accommodating attitude is on the adoption. Parsis believe that one is a born Parsi and therefore we cannot have adoption. For us adoption would mean taking a child who is not a Parsi. When the adoption bill was introduced in parliament, the then prime minister Indira Gandhi kept Parsis out of its ambit. In India all Zoroastrians are Parsis. However, a Parsi may convert to Christianity, Hinduism, etc., yet as a race he remains a Parsi. A Christian or a Hindu (adopted child) cannot be a Parsi even if he follows Zoroastrianism.
We also want the government to have reservations for Parsi community in educational institutions and colleges. Even when our boys and girls score 96% to 97% marks in the boards, they hardly make it to big institutions. If reservation is given to Parsis at least in the institutions founded and funded by the Parsis, our people will do better.
Why the community leaders like you are not even considering the idea of allowing Parsis to marry outside?
Parsis are a patriarchal society. Many of our trusts and colonies are for Parsis only. The trust deeds restrict the assets being used by anyone else. When a girl marries, she assumes her husband’s name. The moment we start accepting outsiders we will surely be increasing the population of Zoroastrians (religion) but not of Parsis (race). Here, religion is tied to the race. Unless you marry within the race or follow patriarchal lineage, the race will be wiped out. That is the way we want to preserve our ethnic identity and purity. We feel that in India Parsis have been following Zoroastrian faith but the moment we allow conversion we will dilute our racial purity and in a couple of generations lose our identity. There are African Zoroastrians, Tajik Zoroastrians, etc., but in India there are only Parsi Zoroastrians. It is about the protection of ethnicity. However, we do accept boys marrying outside the race.