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New Delhi, Feb. 4: The Centre is setting up a fertility centre for married Parsi couples at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences to boost the community’s numbers through its Jiyo Parsi scheme.
The centre, the first dedicated to Parsis, will be operational from next week.
Last year, the Planning Commission had cleared the scheme to sponsor fertility treatment for Parsis across the country and made a budgetary allocation under the 12th five-year plan.
“Married and childless couples from the Parsi community can avail themselves of treatment at the centre. We have selected a group of senior doctors who will treat them and provide counselling,” a minority affairs ministry official said.
Under the scheme, the government will bear the cost of fertility treatment for Parsis, who mostly live in Mumbai, Gujarat, Calcutta and Delhi.
Fertility centres will soon be set up in Mumbai, Gujarat and some other places. Mumbai has the maximum concentration of Parsis.
A survey by the National Commission of Minorities and joint studies by the Parzor Foundation and Tata Institute of Social Sciences have thrown up alarming statistics on the Parsi community.
India’s population of Parsis has declined from 114,890 in 1941 to 69,001 in 2001 — a paradox in a country where the population has crossed 1.2 billion.
“It must have declined further in the past decade as the figures from the 2011 census are not available yet,” said Shernaz Cama, a Parsi and the director of the Delhi-based Parzor Foundation.
The government scheme is being implemented by the foundation, a non-profit organisation that works to preserve Parsi-Zoroastrian heritage.
“Late marriages, marriages outside the community, emigration and separation are the chief causes for the decline in Parsi population,” explained Cama.
In Calcutta, the number of Parsis has dwindled from 1,600 in the 1980s to around 700 at present.
The Jiyo Parsi scheme prepared by the ministry of minority affairs has two important components — advocacy and medical treatment.
Advocacy involves counselling Parsi families to encourage early marriage among the community’s youth.
“Medical assistance involves treating fertility-related issues as soon as they are detected. In case the couples need further treatment, the scheme provides assisted reproductive technologies, which include in-vitro fertilisation and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection,” said Cama.
The Centre has also extended the scheme to include unmarried young members of the community.
According to the surveys, the average number of births per year in the community has never crossed 200 since 2001, when 223 babies were born.
About 30 per cent of Parsis remain single. Another 30 per cent is aged above 60.
Of Parsis who marry, 35 per cent choose partners from other communities.
Contrary to popular perception, not all Parsis are affluent.
“Wealthy Parsis are few and mostly restricted to Mumbai. A large number of young Parsis have the huge burden of supporting their dependants, which include ageing parents and extended family members who are unmarried. Such families have modest income and cannot afford infertility treatment which is a very expensive affair,” said Cama.
The community has another problem, which needs to be addressed. If a Parsi girl weds outside the community, her child is not included in the fold but if a Parsi boy weds a non-Parsi girl, their child is accepted as a Parsi.
“But things are changing in Delhi for the better as children from mixed marriages of Parsi girls are being included. But not in Mumbai, which has the largest concentration of Parsis. The community needs to be liberal in its attitude to change this long established norm,” Cama added.