It's Navroze time once again. But there aren't many Parsis around anymore to celebrate the festival! Sooni Taraporevala's book, 'Zoroastrians of India. Parsis: A Photographic Journey', says that according to the demographic trend, by 2020 only 23,000 Parsis will be left and that wouldn't remain a community anymore, but would have transformed into a tribe.
The reasons for the low population are late marriages and the high cost of living.
A lot is being done however to revive the dwindling population, with many govt schemes and NGOs coming together in this endeavour.
Parsi panchayats across India are putting in extra efforts to bring youth together and make it easier for them to have many children and a better future. The 'Jiyo Parsi' scheme funded by the Centre has already been implemented in Mumbai and six couples have conceived.
Apart from this, panchayats give couples an incentive of Rs3,000 a month for having a second child and Rs5,000 for a third child (scheme for the third child was launched 4-5months ago).
Many panchayats also provide newly married couples low cost housing. Sohrab Bharucha, COO of a Pune-based transport facility, availed of this scheme. "Pune Parsi panchayat helped me get a house in Pune at a very low cost. It took seven years of my savings. This new year, I want the panchayat to give other needy Parsis also subsidised housing. They should pay for children's education (till they are 21) and not just dole out money every month; engineering/doctor degree costs a lot. They should also help youngsters marry early by giving them separate 1-BHK houses."
Panchayats have various trust funds to help educate select Parsi children. The Zoroastrian Youth Association organises sports events, career counselling and get-togethers in different parts of the country twice a year to get kids and adults to mingle and know each other. The next meet is at Panchgani this October.
The head of All India Youth federation of Zoroastrian Youth Association, Mabrin Nanavati, is excited about the meeting, as in the past such meeting have resulted in marriages.
He stays in Pune, which has seen an increase in Parsi population in recent years due to migration.
"It's very rare to see Parsi couples having three kids. This new year, I don't want young Parsis to be afraid of making more babies. There are a lot of trusts to help them out," he says.
Parsis are known to be highly intelligent and career-driven with no time for marriage! The younger lot like Parvand Gandhi, a video editor and photographer, wants other religions to be assimilated into Parsi fold. "Nowhere is it mentioned that Parsis can't preach their religion. It's only in India that we're so orthodox. We should be allowed to marry outside and let children resulting from it choose the religion that they want to follow. It's the only way forward."
It's even more difficult for Parsi women who marry outside their religion. Their spouses and children aren't allowed inside the fire temple. It's easier for Parsi men to have their children initiated through 'Navjote', the thread ceremony.
Meher Sarid is a Parsi woman married to a Punjabi in Delhi. "The Delhi Parsi panchayat is more open minded than the Bombay one. My husband and two sons are allowed into the premises and community get-togethers, but not into the temple. My husband did not want our children to be Parsi, and though he later consented to making one a Parsi, I refused. This Navroze, I want my community to become more accommodating by accepting adults who want to convert. Outside India, anyone can get converted to Zoroastrianism. I also want Bombay panchayat to accept Parsi girls who marry outside the religion and their children. My motto is 'Save Bawas'; I want Parsis to make as many babies as they can."