While some ‘Maje ni life’ loving Parsis are laughing at the ‘Jiyo Parsi’ advertisements that seek to encourage young Parsis to marry early and couples to have more children, others think the ads are bawdy and sexist.
Navaz Master, a 58-year-old woman who works with an NGO, felt the advertisement got it bang on about sons being too close to their mothers and Parsi women being too “choosy”. “I have 40 plus cousins who are unmarried and these ads are topical. Even I have advised my daughters to not keep looking out for Mr Perfect. The ads throw these typical Parsi issues in people’s faces and it is meant to be homourous. Whether it works to encourage youngsters is yet to be seen, but even if it encourages six out of 6,000, it will help the community,” she said, adding that the scheme and the religious laws should move towards being more gender neutral.
According to Parzor Project for the Preservation and Promotion of Parsi Zoroastrian Culture and Heritage, a UNESCO initiative, only one Parsi family in nine had a child below the age of 10. The numbers are far below replacement level with a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 0.88 and a vast aging population. Nearly 45 per cent adult males and 38 per cent adult females were unmarried, the Jiyo Parsi website stated.
“It is more of an attitudinal problem rather than financial constraints,” said HP Ranina, a Supreme Court lawyer. “In the 19th century, the Parsi population went up to 1,25,000 as women married early and had many children. But as more Parsi women got educated, they wanted to concentrate on their careers, rather than raise families. Such ads, even with financial incentives, do little to change attitudes,” he said.
But young Parsi women, most already plagued by family pressure to get married, are not amused. “I’m not a baby-making machine,” fumes Farzeen Khan (23), an amateur filmmaker living in Wadiabaug at Parel.
“Although it is a very useful scheme for Parsi couples, I found the ad campaign offensive. Getting married and having children is my personal choice. The ad about not having older parents to babysit if I delay having kids is so derogatory to older Parsis. Are my parents’ existence limited to babysitting their grandchildren,” she said, adding that the community should instead learn to welcome children of Parsis marrying outside the community if they wanted to increase the population.
But the irritation over the campaign stems from a deeper issue — gender bias. While benefits of the scheme, which provides counselling and financial support for fertility treatment, does not extend support to Parsi women married outside the community, it allows Parsi men to marry outside the community to avail of the scheme.
“It is true that young women feel there is too much pressure on them to get married and have children. While the advertisements are alright, it could be perceived as slightly sexist by some. The issue is that the scheme is in favour of Parsi men marrying outside the community. It is sad that no woman has challenged it in court yet,” said Jehangir Patel, editor of Parsiana, a Mumbai-based magazine for the community.
Parsis pointed out that exclusion of children of inter-religious marriages from practising faith in some cases, coupled with late marriages and unwillingness of couples to have children had significantly affected the population over the years.