The Parsi community that boasts of the highest literacy rate and sex ratio in India is staring at extinction. In a population of 1.2 billion in India, there are only about 69,000 Parsis. While the 2001 Census recorded a 21% decadal growth of the country's population, the number of Parsis declined by about 12 each decade since 1941. The Census 2011 data related to Parsis is not yet available.
To check the decline in population of Parsis and help increase their numbers, the ministry of minority affairs launched a scheme – Jiyo Parsi – on Monday. The scheme will be implemented by the Parzor Foundation with the help of Bombay Parsi Panchayat and other community organizations.
Speaking at the launch programme, minister K Rahman Khan said, "This is a small step to pay our debt to the Parsi community for their contribution to the country. We cannot afford to lose this community."
Studies conducted by the National Commission for Minorities as well as by the Parzor Foundation and Tata Institute of Social Sciences identified several reasons for dwindling number of Parsis, including late marriage, not marrying, fertility decline, emigration and marrying outside the community.
The total fertility rate of the Parsis has dipped below 1, that is, on an average a Parsi woman has less than one child (0.8) in her entire child bearing age.
Jiyo Parsi programme director Zinobia Madan said, "Parsis are not biologically infertile. But, late marriages and attempts to conceive at a late age are the two major causes of low fertility."
The Parsis have more middle aged and elderly population, a demographic profile similar to developed countries. About 31% of Parsis are above 60 years and more than 30% of the community "never married". This is in sharp contrast with India's demographic profile which is largely young.
"Late marriages are killing us. The average age of marriage of a Parsi girl is 29–30 and a Parsi man is about 35 years," said Dinshaw Mehta, chairman, Bombay Parsi Panchayat (BPP).
Through the Centre's Jiyo Parsi scheme, Rs 10 crore will be spent over four years for a two–pronged approach to reverse the population decline, including advocacy and medical assistance.
"About 7% of the funds will be spent for counselling of the Parsi youth and their families for early marriage, conceiving at the right time and training volunteers. The rest will be spent on detection and fertility treatment for married couples," said Shernaz Cama, director, Unesco, Parzor Project.
A panel of doctors selected by the ministry, ICMR in consultation with Parsi organizations will help with medical treatment. The scheme will first target the community in Mumbai, Delhi and Gujarat. "The Parsi mindset of having no child or only one child needs to be replaced by a bolder stand of having 2–3 children," said Zinobia Madan.
Times of India
24 Sep 2013