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Zarathushtis: Future Challenges[i]


















There are several challenges facing the Zarathushti community today.  First, there is ample evidence to show that the original community is growing smaller decade by decade according to the census in India.  While there are no official census figures for the Zarathushti dispersion abroad, the unofficial figures do not show any sizable increase in the community in the Americas, Europe or in Australia/New Zealand. If we are not to be relegated to the history books, we need to find a quick solution to this problem.

The steps taken by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet such as contributing to the maintenance of a third child in a family, medical advice to those who have trouble conceiving children, offering low cost housing to newly married couples will hopefully produce some results in the long run.  But the problem is more immediate and urgent.  If one scans the monthly statistics we see that the number of deaths are three to four times the number of births.  This is a result of the senior population being roughly three times as much as school going children.  Our families are smaller very often with only one child to replace the two parents.  Also the number of unmarried people is larger than the average for other communities.  Those who get married do so rather late in life which also tends to smaller families.

The younger generation needs to realize that the prime age for starting a family is between 22 and 26 and not 32 as is the case at present.  One cannot wait for complete self-sufficiency to get married.  Actually the struggle to make ends meet in the early years would make the family ties closer and teach the children the need for frugality and sharing of responsibility.  Since the Zarathushti population is very small and scattered, many of our children do not have the opportunity to meet suitable partners.  The Youth congresses are a good starting point for such contacts.  However there is a tendency by many to look at these as a ‘marriage market’ and turn up their noses at the concept.  Such an attitude should be discouraged.  If one has the opportunity to meet many young persons of the opposite sex, one is likely to make a good choice of wife or husband when the time comes.

Because of the small gene pool of the community, it is inevitable that some of the community will marry non-Zarathushtis.  At present the evidence is that 30% of youngsters marry outside the community.  Unless we freely accept their children as part of our community, we will lose one-third of the population every generation (about 20-25 years).  We need the children of mixed marriages to be instructed in Zarathushti values.  There is nothing in the religion which opposes that.  Also there are many non-Zarathushti spouses who would like their children to be brought up in the Zarathsuhti Deen (religion) given a chance.  While there are many examples of such persons, one of the most recent was the two daughters of a Zarathushti mother and a Sikh father who voluntarily chose to have their Navjote done in Chicago at the age of 21 and 18.  They and their parents feel very happy about it. 

There is also the question of people who would like to follow the Zarathushti religion even though they were not born in a Zarathushti family.  If they sincerely wish to do so, it would seem that they would make as good if not better Zarathushtis because they want to, than those who had it handed to them by reason of birth.  Since the eventual aim of the Deen is Frasho-Kereti, which means refreshing the world by banishing evil, the way to achieve it would be for most people to accept the good religion.  It therefore behooves us to accept converts, especially those who choose to do so voluntarily.  Recently many Russians, Swedes, South Americans have opted to officially follow the  Zarathushti Deen.  This shows their appreciation of our religion and keenness to be part of the community.   We have to feel proud that so many non-Zarathushtis appreciate the religion we follow.

There are other challenges besides the reduction in numbers.  So many youngsters whose Navjote has been performed without generating sufficient interest in the religion who tend to become estranged thinking they can lead a good life without following any religion.  The parents need to be educated in their own religion – particularly the philosophy and not just the mere rattling off of the kusti prayers.  Where possible it should be illustrated by stories from the Shah Nameh, the lives of great men and by daily example.  Many youngsters feel stifled because of their parents total dominance about prayers and rituals during their childhood, instead of encouraging them to think and ponder some of the issues on their own.

The need for co-operation and unity, while not much felt at local association level, becomes evident when we talk about a unified World Body.  The negotiations have been going on for more than 10 years and we are not much closer to forming one.   It has been said that when five Zarathushtis get together you have six opinions.  Each one thinks he is the only one whose opinion counts, one of them doubly so. Abraham Lincoln used to say: I will concede nine points to my opponents if the tenth is the most important.  We need to cultivate that attitude.

One more problem is the effacing of the Zarathushti identity which is shown by their names.  The Parsi and Irani names are so distinctive that they would stand out in the telephone book or in a list of school children or employees.  Nowadays more and more I see the tendency to Anglicize or Americanize their names like Phiroze becomes Phil, Silloo becomes Selina, Jamshed is changed to Jim and Rukhshana to Roxane.  We should be proud of our Persian tradition and the names that come from those traditions and our mythology so that we can stand up and be counted.  Not only are our names getting changed but some of us have lost the affability which the old world Zarathushtis used to show one another.  We may have picked up the formality of the West and put a distance between our community members.  If such barriers are raised in some circles, they need to be knocked down.

Right now we are so few in number that very few people of the world know of our existence.  If you say you are  a Zarathushti, you are usually asked what that means.  Some even think it is a branch of Islam.   I notice a resurgence of interest in the religion in America, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand as also in India and Pakistan among the younger generation.  Let us hope our younger generation will address these problems and challenges with increased vigor so that the Zarathushtis will once again be known all over the world as ‘the Noble Ones’.

[i] This article was posted on vohuman.org on June 15, 2006