Vanishing point:The last remaining parsis of Delhi


Delhi’s Parsi community is by far the smallest minority group residing in the city. According to the 2011 Census report, the number of Parsis in the national capital is now down to three figures, which has caused great concern among those campaigning to preserve the cultural heritage and collective identity of India’s Parsis, writes Srija Naskar.

Family portrait of Dinbai Jal D.B. Irani (extreme left), who was the first Parsi woman entrepreneur in Delhi and owned the Empress Aerated Soda Water factory here during the 1920s

Family portrait of Dinbai Jal D.B. Irani (extreme left), who was the first Parsi woman entrepreneur in Delhi and owned the Empress Aerated Soda Water factory here during the 1920s

“Our demographic studies, which were done with Dorabji Tata Trust’s funding, have shown that we are a community which has a 0.88 replacement-level fertility for two. You need 2.1 for survival, you need 3 for progressing. In the last census, we were 0.88, now we are lower than that. I have just received the census results of 2011, and while we expected a 10% decline, it is sad to see that there has been a 20% decline. From 69,601, we are now only 57,264. We are so below the 100,000 figure, that we have been clubbed with the ‘others’ category in census reports,” says Cama.

The Parzor Foundation had approached the Ministry of Minority Affairs to develop a scheme that would address such grave issues as rampant drug abuse within the Parsi community, alarmingly low fertility rates caused by late or no marriages, problems of immigration, intermarriage and divorce. It was only in September 2013 that the Union Government passed this scheme under its Jiyo Parsi programme. Three years on, although the recently released census 2011 figures are disheartening, there is more awareness about these issues than ever before. “Demographically we are an ageing community. So the latest census report is basically a reflection of what we have been discussing for years now: 200 births to 800 deaths on an average, that has afflicted the community. The 20 % decline was bound to happen because the majority of the people in the community all over the country belong between 50-60 years, who would very naturally in a few years’ time pass away and the numbers will dwindle. That is where the Jiyo Parsi (JP) programme becomes important because JP aims to get the birth numbers going up, bridge the gap between the birth and death ratio by changing mindsets through advocacy programmes,” says Pearl Mistry, counselor of JP. Mistry became a part of JP in June 2014 and gives an outline of the campaigns that have been undertaken over the years: “Our target is the youth in the community, with who we conduct workshops on parenting in which we encourage parents to opt for more than one kid. I was one of the first few Parsis in Bombay to break this tradition. I am a mother of three children. I also specialize in counseling programmes for the youth, encourage routine health check ups by assuring medical reimbursements to families when they register with JP for continued treatment on infertility, etc. You have to realise that IVF is a major taboo even among educated middle class Parsis. We have been promoting these campaigns through rigorous advertisements and press releases.”

Today JP is a household name in Bombay, organizing workshops, community programmes, in Parsi ghettos like Jogeshwari, Andheri, Dadar, Colaba, to name just a few. They have also been conducting outstation programmes in Gujarat, Secunderabad and Hyderabad, where Parsis form the second largest population after Bombay.

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