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Baby on way, Parsis fete UPA

- Five conceive via fertility scheme launched to boost falling count

New Delhi, Aug. 4: Honey, thank our ex!

Parsis have been saying they “owe it” to the UPA since five women, who opted for fertility treatment under a scheme the previous government had sponsored for the dwindling community, conceived and are now looking ahead to the new additions.

“This is incredible news for all of us,” said Shernaz Cama, director of the Delhi-based Parzor Foundation, a non-profit organisation that works to preserve the Zoroastrian heritage of Parsis.

The scheme, under which the government bears the cost of the fertility treatment, is being implemented through the foundation.

“We owe it to the previous government,” Cama, a Parsi, added.

The UPA II government had last year cleared the Jiyo Parsi scheme and made a budgetary allocation under the 12th Five-Year Plan to contain the decline in the community’s population, which fell to 69,001 in 2001 from 114,890 in 1941.

In Calcutta, the number of Parsis has dwindled from 1,600 in the 1980s to around 700 now.

An official in the minority affairs ministry said two of the five women who have conceived are from Delhi; the rest live in Mumbai.

“The treatments of infertile couples have started bearing fruit. The Parsi community members are very happy with the positive results,” the official said.

For Deeba, that’s an understatement. “I am on cloud nine,” said the 39-year-old whose name has been changed on request. “My husband is planning to throw parties in the next couple of weeks where he is going to invite his friends and relatives.”

Deeba, who works in an IT firm in Gurgaon, has already applied for maternity leave. “I request women from my community to shed their inhibitions and avail themselves of the scheme to enjoy motherhood. It’s an incredible feeling,” she added.

N.F. Tankariwala agreed. “They should come forward in large numbers,” said Tankariwala, the lone Parsi marriage registrar in Calcutta.

According to officials in the minority affairs ministry, over 30 childless couples were undergoing in vitro fertilisation treatment (IVF) under the scheme.

The Jiyo Parsi scheme has two important components: advocacy and medical treatment.

The medical assistance involves treating fertility-related issues. If couples need further treatment, the scheme provides for assisted reproductive technologies like IVF.

“Parsis are very conservative and many of them are reluctant to go for IVF treatment. But we are reaching out to them and counselling them,” Cama, the Parzor Foundation director, said.

Fertility centres have been set up in Jaslok hospital in Mumbai and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi.

“I am sure the scheme will help the community to boost its numbers,” said Wajahat Habibullah, who retired as chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities early this year.

Habibullah had ordered a survey of the Parsi community and recommended to the Planning Commission to include the IVF treatment in the 12th Plan.

According to the study, the average number of births per year in the community has never crossed 200 since 2001, when 223 babies were born.

Contrary to popular perceptions, not all Parsis are affluent. “Wealthy Parsis are few and mostly restricted to Mumbai. A large number of young Parsis have a huge burden of supporting dependants, including ageing parents and extended family members who are unmarried. Such families have modest income and cannot afford infertility treatment which is very expensive,” Cama said.

Last month, minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla had met representatives from the community. Heptulla, who had kicked up a controversy soon after assuming office with her statement that only Parsis were a minority in the country, said her ministry would focus on curbing the decline in the community’s population.

The Parsis have been trying to address another problem, too.

Earlier, if a Parsi girl married outside the community, her child was not included in the fold, although the offspring of a Parsi boy and a non-Parsi girl was accepted as a Parsi. “Things have changed in Delhi for the better as children from mixed marriages of Parsi girls are being included,” Cama said.

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.