Please listen to the BBC Podcast on Saving India’s Parsis here

Click here to read the potential impact of intermarriage on the population decline of the Parsis of Mumbai, India by Zubin C. Shroff and Marcia C.Castro


A Journey of Discovery : I  , A Journey of Discovery : II  , A Journey of Discovery : III ,  A Journey of Discovery : IV ,  A Journey of Discovery : V


Age Composition of the Parsis

During our field trips in the 1990’s a constant question that arose was about community numbers. Was the community population really dwindling? What research was the project doing in the field of demographics? Were there any solutions? The empty villages of South Gujarat and deserted homes raised numerous questions. The population of the Parsi-Zoroastrians has fallen from a peak of 1,14,000 in 1941 to 76,000 in 1991, a 33% fall in 50 years. It has fallen further to 69,601 in 2001. A demographic module was been created to research into and try and answer some of these questions. At various meetings of the demographic module it was found that many issues facing the Parsis of India could be seen as Predicaments of Progress. These sociological issues were found in several highly urbanized countries. The Parsis who have modernized very quickly have pioneered this issue in India but recently sociologists are finding that other Indian communities are also facing similar problems. These include : Problems facing youth , The issues of the aged , Late marriages , Non marriage , Inter marriage , Divorce , Infertility , Migration


The latest census of 2001 has come at a very opportune time for the Parsi communituy , because for the first time the census has analysed the data on religious communities in India. Previously the Parsis, being a miniscule minority were clubbed under “Other Religions” and the only data published was the number of males and females and the rural-urban distribution (which has no meaning for a near total Urban community) Instead the 2001 census has given all the important demographic details regarding different age-groups, crude birth and death rate figures, male-female ratio as well as literacy and working population figures.
The following statistics from the 2001 census pertaining to the Parsis stand out in stark contrast to the demographic characteristics of the general population of India. The Parsi demographic features are similar to those prevailing in the developed countries.


Age Composition of the Parsis

Total Count – The Parsis of India reached their highest ever census count of 1,14,890 in 1941. Since then, every decennial census has shown a 10% or more decrease. The census of 1991 had enumerated population 76,382 which has declined by 6,781 within a decade, with the 2001 census reporting 69,601 Parsis. This is a decline of 9%. In 60 years the Parsis appear to have declined by 40%.Growth Rate – Whilst amongst the general population the growth rate is 21%, amongst the Parsis there is no growth but a decline of 8.88%. Parsis comprise a meager 0.0069% of the Indian population.

Male/Female Ratio – In 1991, in the general population of the country there were 927 females to 1000 males, whereas, among the Parsis, there were 1024 females. In 2001, while the general population sex ratio has gone up 933, among the Parsis, is is 1050. Amongst other minorities in India the next highest sex-ratio is amongst the Christians at 1009, followed by 953 amongst the Buddhist and 940 amongst the Jains. These are all above the national average. The worst sex-ration is amongst the Sikhs at 893 suggesting a bias for the male child and the use of sex-selection tests. While the Parsi figures speak fo the equal position in which women are held the real reason is that women outlive men and therefore we have a situation of a larger percentage of elderly women, widows or spinsters. This has a bearing the care-giving functions required by them and the social responsibilities the family and the community have towards them.

Deserted Mansion decaying in Adajania Village

Age Composition – The most damaging finding is the strength of the population in the 0-6 segment which is a mere 4.7%. In the general population this is 15%. In 1901, the percentage of Parsi children in this age group was 9.5%. In one century we have lost 4.8% which means a loss of 100% in this vital age group which determines the demographic profile for other ages. As against this the aged segment of those over 60 years is 31%. This segment in the general population of India is 7% which was the figure amongst the Parsis in 1931. This means that though our Population had peaked in 1941, the birth rate was 16.6 and the decline in fertility had started much earlier in 1926 (C.Chandra Shekhar). The percentage of the aged is possibly one of the highest in the world even when compared to western countries. Seen in conjunction the birth and death statistics tell a clear story of where the Parsi population is heading. In the left column, above, is a chart prepared by the Census Commission giving details of the age composition of the Parsis

Crude Birth and Death Rates – The crude birth rate in the 2001 census is 6 to 8 per thousand as against the general population of 24.8 per 1000. By contrast the death rate is 16 to 18 per thousand as against 9 per thousand in the general population. Which implies that Parsis lose 10 persons per thousand per year which for a population of 69,000 amounts to 690 annually or a less of 6,900 in a decade.

Literacy – The literacy rate in the community is the highest in India at 97.9% which is not surprising as education of Parsi children, male or female was emphasized as early as the late 19th century. The Jains are second with a literacy rate of 94.1%, followed by Christians at 80.3%. The national average is 64.8%.

Working Population – When we come to the working population it appears somewhat surprising that it is only 35%, even lower than the national average of 39.3%. The reason lies in the larger percentage of the aged segment which comprises of retired persons. This has a strong bearing on the dependency of the aged on the younger generations.

Population Distribution – The Parsis are a highly urbanized community and 96.1% of Parsis reside in Urban areas. This is in stark contrast to the general population of which only 27.8% reside in Urban areas while 72.2% reside in rural areas. Geographically, Maharashtra has the maximum percentage of Parsis (78.%) followed by Gujarat (16.7%). Of the total rural Parsi population of 2,689 at the national level the largest concentration is in Gujarat (69.5 per cent) followed by Maharashtra (18.7 per cent).

Fertility – Fertility as reflected in annual number of births continues to have declined sharply whatever may be the reasons or causes direct or indirect. Child woman ratio (CWR) 0-4 or 5-9 is an excellent indirect measure of fertility particularly when infant and child mortality are very low and age reporting fairly reliable. Both these assumptions are in favour of the Parsi populations and therefore an estimate of CWR 0-4 and 5-9 would give a good indication of the fertility level among them. The reported CWR 0-4 and 5-9 for the Parsi population are 72 and 85 per 1000. These are extremely low as compared for Total India, which are 439 and 578 respectively, about one sixth for the Parsi’s. (Source : Report of the Census Commissioner)

Age at Death – The following data on age at death has been taken according to the information provided by the Parsiana magazine’s November 2003 issue. Parsi’s have a very low infant mortality rate and no mortality from age 1 to 10 has been reported. Almost 90 percent of all mortality has been reported for age 61 and above. The following table has been taken from the Census commission’s report.


Category No.
Still Born 9
Under 1 Year 2
Between 11-15 years 1
Between 16-18 years 1
Between 19-24 years 1
Between 25-30 years 2
Between 31-40 years 6
Between 41-50 years 27
Between 51-60 years 81
Between 61-70 years 201
Between 71-80 years 468
Between 81-90 years 471
Between 91-100 years 123
Over 100 years 6
Total Deaths 1399
Male Deaths 722
Female Deaths 677

Glimmers of Hope:

Back to the Roots Movement– One observation made during the field surveys is of a numerically small but an attitudinally important ‘Back to the Roots’ movement amongst some youth. They have chosen to return from the cities to family lands/ business because they perceive a better quality of life there and have pride in continuing family traditions.

The WZO (World Zoroastrian Organisation) has also been instrumental in drawing back some of those from the service sector in cities to develop their land holdings and make them profitable.

The Delhi Parsi
With the support of the Delhi Minorities Commission Parzor conducted research between 2007-2008 on the Parsi Population of India’s capital city. The Delhi Parsi population is younger than the traditional populations of Gujarat and has been migratory in nature. It also has a large percentage of intermarried Parsis. To analyze this population and it’s concerns was the focus of this study.While the details of research are available at Parzor, the Powerpoint presentation [Click Here] gives an overview.