“When people say Parsis are dwindling, it’s not necessarily that we’re dying out, but when you intermarry, you dilute that sense of Parsi identity.” The specter of their shrinking population hangs heavy over Parsis of all ages.They face pressure from their families and community leaders to marry other Parsis, because marriage implies children who can inherit religious and cultural customs.
She too wants Zoroastrianism to live on in her children, especially if they choose to practice it.
“Our community, if it means to survive, can’t expect to remain ‘pure’ in the way they call it,” she said.
Many Parsis who marry outside the faith face some family pressure and community scorn.
However, under the laws that currently govern Mumbai’s Parsis, Zoroastrianism is inherited through fathers.
Khushroo Anita, a 35-year-old Parsi, often dates women outside his faith when he travels for work. Khursheed Narang, left, and Meyer Amersey founded the Association of Inter-Married Zoroastrians 20 years ago. A sign outside a Mumbai fire temple limits entry to “Parsees only.” Under current rules, this excludes children who have Parsi mothers but fathers of other faiths. They’ve both finished school, established careers and grown eager to start families.
His parents hope he will marry a Parsi woman, so he keeps these relationships secret at home. Now, they connect interfaith couples with Zoroastrian priests willing to perform weddings and initiation rituals for their children. But even in a city of 18 million, they’re struggling to find spouses.
Parsi men who marry out can include their children in Zoroastrian rituals and in population counts, but women cannot. Their children are accepted as Parsi community members, and they are allowed the privileges, including living in the Parsi colonies and visiting the fire temple,” said Khursheed Narang, who married a Hindu man 40 years ago.
“As it stands, women are ostracized, and their children are not considered part of the community anymore.” When Narang’s children decided they wanted to be initiated into Zoroastrianism, Narang struggled to find a priest willing to perform the ritual.
The ethnic group numbers just 60,000 nationwide, three-fourths of them in Mumbai, and diminishing fast.
Their Zoroastrian faith forbids converts, so many ascribe the population decline—at least in part—to increasingly common marriages between Parsis and people of other faiths.
The 2011 study estimated that, if the Parsis were to include children of interfaith marriages in their 2051 population count, they would number 20,535—a 7 percent increase over 19,135 predicted under current rules.