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11-baby joke fools panel eager for Parsi numbers

- Picture put up without check

New Delhi, Sept. 1: The National Commission for Minorities was overjoyed when a stranger emailed it to say a 25-year-old Parsi lady in Gujarat had delivered 11 baby boys at one go in a rarest-of-the-rare feat.

The panel, long worried about the falling Parsi population, immediately uploaded a combo picture of the babies and the purported mother, mailed by the stranger, to its website and declared the lady a role model for Parsi women. Now it has egg on its face because the “news” has turned out a hoax.

“It seemed excellent news; that’s why we put it on our website. I’ll ask my officials to remove it immediately,” commission chairman Wajahat Habibullah said on Friday. At 5pm on Saturday, the “news item” and the picture had still not been removed.

“Cause for celebration in the minuscule Parsi camp,” the post gushed. “A Guinness world record! Eleven Parsi ‘poriyas’ born together at Surat (India) hospital. Mother’s name: RODA COOPER. She is RODA COOPER from Nanpura, Surat...... WOW!! Go Parsis Go Kom wadharo!!”

Poriya” means “boy” and “kom wadharo” means “expand your clan” in a south Gujarat dialect spoken by many Parsis. Asked why the commission hadn’t verified the claim before posting it as news, Keki N. Daruwalla, a Parsi and commission member, said: “Don’t ask me anything about it. It turned out to be a joke.”

The hoax was discovered when an excited commission decided to reward the “mother” and contacted the Gujarat government.

An inquiry has revealed that the 11 babies in the picture were born to different mothers on 11/11/11 at a Surat hospital. The lady in the combo picture is Nadya Suleman, an American who delivered octuplets (eight babies) in 2009 after conceiving through IVF, an official said.

The commission fell for the hoax because the subject of increasing the Parsis’ numbers has been close to its heart. Jointly with the minority affairs ministry, it has sent a proposal to the Planning Commission for state-sponsored fertility treatment for Parsis.

According to the 2001 census, India has around 60,000 Parsis, among whom the death rate is three times the birth rate.

About 30 per cent of Parsis remain single while another 30 per cent is aged above 60. Of Parsis who marry, 35 per cent choose partners from other communities.

A survey by the minority affairs ministry suggests that the births per year among Parsis have never crossed 200 since 2001. In Calcutta, where Parsis settled in the mid-18th century, their number has fallen from 1,600 in the 1980s to around 700.

“The number of bachelors and spinsters in the community is a cause for concern,” said minority affairs secretary Dilip Mitra.

N.F. Tankariwala, the lone Parsi marriage registrar in Calcutta, said an average of one Parsi wedding takes place in the city per year. He issues a certificate after a priest solemnises the union. No certificate is issued if either partner is non-Parsi.

“The girls and boys in the community are more career-oriented now. Marriage takes a backseat. By the time they reach 35-40, it becomes difficult for women to conceive even if they marry,” he said.

If a Parsi boy weds a non-Parsi girl, their child is accepted as a Parsi but not if it’s the other way round.

A senior minority affairs ministry official said the Centre faced an ironical situation.

“The government is focusing on population control but when it comes to the Parsis, it is willing to spend to increase the community’s population.”