“Within 50 years, may be we will no more exist” worry the last 67.000 “parsi” of India, almost all of them living in Mumbaï, the economic capital of the country. This tight-knit community left Persia ( now Iran) in the VIII° century, fleeing the islamization of the country by Arab invaders. In fact, “parsi” are zoroastrians, zoroastrianism being a religion based on the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster, a tradition that divides the world between the good and the evil,… Between the VIII° and the X° century, many zoroastrians arrived in western India, and most of them settled in the present states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Before the British colonization, most of them were farmers and shopkeepers in the villages, or traders or craftsmen in the towns. With the introduction of the western economy, they became mostly city-dwellers and in the first half of the XIX° century, they monopolized at Bombay the commerce with Europe. ( They were the firsts to interact with the Europeans because they had no religious taboos contrary to the hindus) Then, many made a fortune in the commerce of opium to China and the Far-East. They invested their capital in banks, in the shipbuilding business and the cotton industry. The more successful “parsi” enterprise is the creation, at the beginning of the XX° century, of the indian modern metallurgy industry by Jamshed Tata ( the Tata company is now the first indian group). So, the “parsi” became a powerful community, particularly in the economical field. But, since 50 years, their population is shrinking and the community is dying.
There are many reasons to explain this diminution : the fall of the fertility rate provoked by the generalization of late marriages, the increase of single women due to the lack of male partners, the lack of recognition for the children born to mixed marriages. To check this decline, the community has relaxed its rules : children born of mixed marriages are now considered as “parsi” if the father is “parsi” ( they are not if this is the mother who is “parsi”).
Many youth leave India to study abroad or to find a job there. Those who stay, marry when they are 35 years old and have 1 or 2 children. Not enough ! Within 2 or 3 generations, the “parsi” will be nothing more than a memory. Moreover, “parsi” women who work earn as much money as the men, so the economic criterion is now more important than the communautarist one when it’s time to marry : being married to a rich man is more important than being married to a “parsi”.
Now, the main “parsi” communities are in Mumbaï and Karachi ( Pakistan). The prominent ones are Jamsetji Tata, the father of the indian industry, the Godrej (industrial) family, the conductor Zubin Mehta, Freddie Mercury, the singer of the pop band Queen,… Parsi are well known for the way they dispose of their dead. Indeed, dead “parsi” are taken to the “towers of silence” where the corpses are neither buried nor burnt but eaten by the vultures, the crows and stray dogs. They do it because the “parsi” believe water, air and fire are sacred elements, so burying a corpse or burning it would pollute these elements.