Understanding Parsi Population Decline

Dear all,

As many of you know, I recently gave at talk at the Nehru Centre in Mumbai on the topic of “Understanding Parsi Population Decline:  A Historical Perspective.”  This talk, similar to the talk that I gave in Houston in December 2010, consults the scholarship of professional demographers in order to clear up popular confusion in the Parsi community over why, precisely, our population figures have been declining over the past few decades.   It highlights the fact that ALL professional demographic studies show that intermarriage, or migration to the West, is not the prime reason for population decline.  Rather, the defining reasons are late marriage and non-marriage in the Parsi
community, and the resultant few number of children born.  This has translated into smaller and smaller generations of Parsi youth, and a larger proportion of aged persons, something starkly obvious here in Mumbai and elsewhere in India.

Thanks to Kainaz Amaria, a US photojournalist currently based in Mumbai, this talk was videotaped and is now posted online in three different parts:

Part 1:  http://vimeo.com/kainazamaria/dinyar-patel-pt1
Part 2:  http://vimeo.com/kainazamaria/dinyar-patel-pt2
Part 3:  http://vimeo.com/kainazamaria/dinyar-patel-pt3

In particular, I would like to direct you to 33:23 of Part 3, where Dinshaw Mehta, chairman of the BPP, acknowledges the seriousness of the demographic problem and pledges that the BPP will give it the attention it deserves.  I have been in touch with Mr. Mehta since then.

The chairman of the BPP has acknowledged our demographic crisis.  Now it is time for those of us in North America — who face additional challenges caused by a geographically dispersed population — to give this critically-needed attention, support, and funding.  This really should be the #1 priority of FEZANA, and the later that we put off decisive action, the greater our number of lost opportunities, and the smaller and weaker our future community will be.  All other issues and concerns pale in comparison with the stark reality that we are currently not doing enough to ensure a robust “next generation” for the community.  The seriousness of this crisis is readily apparent from the “Promoting Marriage” survey report I sent around late last month.

A PDF copy of my Nehru Centre talk, with graphs and figures, is also attached here.  Please feel free to forward it, along with the links to the videos, to anyone who might be interested.

It is time to move from talk to action.

Best regards,


Dinyar Patel
Ph.D. Candidate, Modern South Asia
Department of History
Harvard University
+91 87672 03572

2011-05 Understanding Parsi Population Decline in India – Nehru Centre


  • My response here is based on a brief read of the write up above, I have yet to see and listen to the 3 video tapes above. So please excuse me if what I highlight below is covered in the 3 video tapes.

    I fully agree population decline in the community is mainly caused by, and I quote from above: “Rather, the defining reasons are late marriage and non-marriage in the Parsi
    community, and the resultant few number of children born.”

    We, as a community, have been aware of this trend for the past 70 years or so. Unfortunately, we are inclined to ignore the cultural and behavioral patterns that cause Parsis to marry late or not marry at all.

    The reasons for this cannot be addressed with fast and immediate remedial results, cultural and behavioral values are almost “within the blood.” Moreover, these norms and values are never subjected to self introspection, so rectifying these, and moving in another direction, will prove even more difficult.

    One major reason that has never been discussed or highlighted is the poor level of social interaction amongst Parsis. With the exception of those in the community, who interact within the community extensively, on account of their occupation or status, or similar other circumstances, most community members tend to interact in very narrow limited circles- living in the same neighborhood, our baghs, good for subsidized housing, but which has created a “ghetto” mentality; similarly, Parsis will interact comfortably within their wider family relationship, or from their place of work, those who work in banks or in cotton mills, etc., for example.

    Wherever we are introduced to someone, the first “priority” is to try and establish, between the parties, the “olkhan” ie friends, relatives, the newly pair or group of individuals will try to fathom from one another, have in common.

    How else can we explain the huge number of matrimonial sites for a small community? And, any statistics are available, whether these result in large number of successful proposals, in a big way? And, to my utter surprise and amazement, I have personally observed proposals on Parsi sites by non-Parsis!

    Cultural and behavioral values are so ingrained in any people, it would seem naive to someone reading this, that the solution is right under our noses-we have no desire to recognize a Parsi identity, that mutual trust and desire to know other Parsis is based on pre conditions of some form of familiarity-ranging from family connections, same neighborhood (the baghs etc), same place of work, same social status, same or better educational status.

    We have to remove from us this “ghetto” mentality. Parsis do meet famously, for weddings-navjotes, at our Temples and social or religious functions, for BPP meetings(!!!), but individuals will only acknowledge those they know, the rest are “ignored.” So we have social interaction within tight narrow circles.

    This has been a huge stumbling obstacle we have failed to recognize, which sits right there, right next to the other problems we are familiar with, like the high expectations by both the boys or girls, or the wrong deficient upbringing that keeps growing children increasingly dependent on their parents and seniors, or the lack of a sense of pride in the community, or a sense we are loosing our selves by indifferent neglect of our problems.

    Everyone of us is fully aware of our problems and deficiencies, but we prefer and prioritize our own lives and needs. Fortunately, there are a good number of individuals who do a huge amount of selfless work, but we have no goals, and no dynamic leadership, with vision and real desire to make a change that would turn around our fortunes. This is further hampered by our extensive diaspora, where again, thousands of miles away from India, we tend to form splinter groups!

    Geve Narielwalla

  • Many Parsis, especially in the diaspora, make huge attempts to meet each other. Yet many of us have spent years in relationships with other Zoroastrians which failed. For women, it means wasting their childbearing years. And for many men, fertility also declines. I know many Parsi men who partied away their 30s and 40s, who want children, and obviously cannot find anyone their age, and often find their sperm quality declines too.

    Medical fertility is also a problem (as it is in many communities) with Parsis. Many Parsis I know have conceived (or failed to conceive) children with ivf. And still others are investigating egg or sperm donation.

    The Jiyo Parsi program in India is following on the Parsi Panchayat program to help Parsis facing medical infertility. While they help intermarried couples where the man is Parsi, they do NOT help intermarried couples where the woman is Parsi. And of course couples in the diaspora don’t qualify.

    There will be more Parsis seeking fertility treatment. Including those seeking egg or sperm donation. Parsis should want to help our community by offering to donate. If you know anyone who’s struggled with the pain of being childless, please consider donation. Look out for websites and emails and social media in the future with calls for donation, or calls by clinics.

    Help your fellow Zoroastrians. Consider egg or sperm donation.

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