In their late 30s, Viraf and Zia (names changed) have been trying unsuccessfully for a baby. This Parsi New Year (August 18), the couple, married for 11 years, are about to realise their wish. Not only has the fertility treatment proved successful, they have also been reimbursed the expenses for it under the Rs-10 crore Jiyo Parsi scheme.
The scheme, which was launched by the Ministry of Minority Affairs a year-and-a-half ago to arrest the decline in the numbers of Parsi Zoroastrian community, has started yielding results. While 30 babies have been born since the scheme began, another 11 are expected. As many as 50 couples are undergoing medical treatment under the scheme.
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Dr Shernaz Cama, director of UNESCO’s Parzor project, which is implementing the scheme along with Bombay Parsi Panchayat and others, told The Indian Express, “The estimated population of Parsis in India in 2001 was 69,000. For 800 deaths every year, the number of births is just 200 in the Parsi community. Clearly, the population is dipping.”
The Parsi community is staring at near extinction. According to the 2001 Census, the number of Parsis has declined by about 12% each decade since 1941. The Census 2011 data related to Parsis is not available.
The Jiyo Parsi scheme, launched in November 2013, became fully functional by 2014 and has a corpus of Rs 10 crore to be spent over four years to reverse the population decline.
“About 7% of the funds will be spent for counselling the Parsi youths and their families for early marriage, conceiving at the right time and training volunteers. The rest is being spent on detection of problems and fertility treatment for married couples. Financial assistance is not just extended for the fertility treatment but also for medical tests. A couple earning Rs 10 lakh and below annually gets 100 per cent coverage. Those earning Rs 10-15 lakh annually get 75 per cent coverage while and those in Rs 15-20 lakh bracket get 50 per cent coverage,” Cama said.
The Parzor Foundation and Tata Institute of Social Sciences have identified several reasons for dwindling number of Parsis. These include late marriage, not marrying at all, fertility decline, emigration and marrying outside the community, Dr Cama said.
According to Dr Katy Gandevia, programme coordinator who is in charge of the advocacy section, the aim is to create awareness in the community about the importance of choosing a partner at a correct age, encourage marriage and bearing children at the right time. “We have also released campaigns like ‘only child, a lonely child’ and a series of workshops have been planned across the state,” Pearl Mistry, counsellor with the programme, said.
A panel of doctors selected by the ministry, in consultation with Parsi organizations, helps with medical treatment.
In Pune, Dr Sunita Tandulwadkar, in charge of IVF department at Ruby Hall Clinic, said the scheme was a unique one.
Currently handling the fertility treatment of Viraf and Zia, Tandulwadkar said the treatment involved use of assisted reproductive technologies (ART), including in-vitro fertilization, intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection and others.
In Zia’s case, they used the sperm injection to fertilize the egg and the embryo will soon be placed in her uterus.
“Extra embryos can be frozen and can be used in future IVF cycles,” Tandulwadkar said.
However, before Zia even gets pregnant, she has already been reimbursed the amount of Rs 1.5 lakh for the entire fertility treatment under the scheme.