OH, KHODAI! – Ahmedabad
Against two deaths every month on an average, only six babies are born every year. There are approximately 27,000 Parsis living in Gujarat while around 42,000 live in Mumbai and Pune. They are in danger of becoming extinct as the fertility rate continue to drop alarmingly. However, the community is actively trying to stop their population from flatlining. Brigadier (retd) J P Anklesaria, president of Ahmedabad Parsi panchayat, said, “The main reason behind fall in population is that our men and women marry too late. They want to pursue higher education, then focus on career. Late marriages and attempts to conceive at a late age are the two major causes of low fertility and low childbirth rate.” The average age of marriage of a Parsi girl is 29-30 and a Parsi man is about 35 years.
The fertility rate (average number of children that would be born to a woman in a lifetime) among Parsi women in the reproductive age has dropped from 0.94% in 2001 to 0.89% in 2011. According to community leaders, this has dropped further to 0.8 which is way below the required rate of 2.1% to replace the existing population. This means, on an average, a Parsi woman has less than one child (0.8) in her entire childbearing age. In addition 21 % of males were found to have a low sperm count. The study found one among every 10 Parsi women was childless, which is twice the level of childlessness among Indian women.
Many of them were unable to conceive due to uterine issues. The problem is so grave that even President Pranab Mukherjee referred to the declining population of the community and said that this “phenomenon needs to be addressed – very pragmatically and sensitively”. The Ministry of Minority Affairs launched a scheme ‘Jiyo Parsi’ in 2013, under which, Rs 10 crore will be spent over four years to reverse population decline. It has a two-pronged approach: the first includes promoting early marriage and multiple children; the second, free fertility treatments are offered to couples.
Khushnum Avari, former president of Parsi Youth League of Ahmedabad said, “Most Parsi families are highly educated and wealthy. The youths have a high standard of living. The high degree of individualism, difficulty in finding suitable partner and increasing acceptability of singles restrict our growth.” Sharing another reason, Khushnum said, “Parsi girls from Delhi and Mumbai do not want to move to cities like Ahmedabad, Surat and the southern belt of Gujarat. This creates problems in finding partners.” Here’s where PYLA plays an active role.
Current president Ariz Bokdawala said, “Surat and Mumbai have colonies, societies and bars where young Parsis connect. However, rarely does an inter-community interaction take place in Ahmedabad. So, we began organising New Year celebrations, campfires, sports activities and cultural activities so that people can mingle with each other. Though the event is meant for youths, we do not bar anyone from joining.” Currently, there are 400 PYLA members who regularly attend gatherings. Bokdawala added, “We realised that many were unaware of other Parsis in the city.
We help connect families of children with marriageable age. We also conduct counselling session and guide married couples facing fertility issues.” In 2014, to improve the population rate, the Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat also offered flats on rent for 20 years to couples who married young. Khushnum said, “The schemes are helping as the age of newlyweds is gradually dropping from 34-35 to 23- 34 years of age.” Piruz Khambatta, chairman and managing director of Rasna whose father is the chairman of the World Parsi Community, said, “Efforts to encourage youngsters to marry early are paying off. I recently attended two weddings were the couples were quite young. The panchayats are also organising summer camps across India for youths to attend and get to know each other.”