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LATEST ARCHAEOLOGICAL & CULTURAL NEWS OF IRAN & THE IRANIAN WORLD

 

Slow Breeders; Adherents of Zoroastrian Religion in India Worry about its Disappearance

 

18 April 2008

 

 

 

LONDON, (CAIS) -- Two of India's biggest business clans—Tata and Godrej—are Parsis, descendants of Iranian Zoroastrians, who fled the Muslim invasion of Iran for India more than 1,000 years ago. But well though some of its members have done, the Parsi community is dwindling. At the time of the 2001 census India had fewer than 70,000 Parsis, a 40% drop since 1941. Since then, the decline has accelerated. A survey suggests that only 99 Parsis were born in the year to August 2007, compared with 223 in 2001, reported Economist on Thursday.

 

The community's very success has played a part in its shrinkage. Young Parsis tend to put off marriage until they have established careers, “leaving time for two children only, if that,” says Mehroo Bengalee, a Parsi member of the government's National Commission for Minorities. Emigration is another factor: like many prosperous Indians, Parsis tend to go to university overseas, and stay there. But most important is the large number of women who marry non-Parsis. Their children are not recognised as Zoroastrian.

 

The Parsi community, concentrated around Mumbai, is trying to push up the birth rate. New Parsi-only fertility centres are being built. Young Parsis are given lectures about the benefits of early breeding. Girls and boys are brought together at youth camps, in an effort to encourage inter-Parsi marriage.

 

Many Parsi women, meanwhile, complain that the one change that could stem the decline will never come. They would like the concession that allows men in mixed marriages to bring their children up as Parsis to be extended to them. “My brother's children are recognised as Parsis; mine are not,” says Shireen Vakil-Miller who, like her brother, married “outside”. The effect on the Parsi population of her hometown, Delhi, is dramatic. When she arrived in 1991, there were thought to be 800 Parsis in the capital. Today, that number has fallen by half.

 


Parsis as an ethnic community
Although the Parsis of India originally emigrated from Iran, they no longer have social or familial ties to Iranians, and do not share language (Persian) or recent history with them. 

 

Over the centuries since the first Iranian Zoroastrians arrived in India, they have integrated themselves into Indian society while simultaneously maintaining their own distinct customs and traditions. This in turn has given the modern Parsi community a rather peculiar standing - they are Indians in terms of national affiliation, language and history, but not typically Indian in terms of consanguinity or cultural, behavioural and religious practices.


Genealogical DNA tests to determine purity of lineage have brought mixed results. The last test carried out in 2004. in which Parsi mitochondrial DNA (matrilineal) was compared with that of the Iranians and Gujaratis determined that Parsis are genetically closer to Gujaratis than to Iranians. The authors of the 2004 study suggested "a male-mediated migration of the ancestors of the present-day Parsi population, where they admixed with local females [...] leading ultimately to the loss of mtDNA of Iranian origin."[1]


The Rivayat epistles also suggest that at some point between the 15th and 17th centuries non-Zoroastrians were accepted into the fold.

   



[1] Quintana-Murci, L., "Where West Meets East: The Complex mtDNA Landscape of the Southwest and Central Asian Corridor", American Journal of Human Genetics 74 (5), (2004) P. 840.

 

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