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The BBC's Sanjeev Srivastava
"A small community which sticks together"
 real 56k

Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 15:41 GMT
India's Parsis ponder future
Parsi wedding
The Parsis guard their culture and customs zealously
By Sanjeev Srivastava in Bombay

India's Parsi community, who originally migrated from Iran, are followers of one of the oldest religions in the world - Zoroastrianism.

In the old days, the Parsis were the most highly educated

Parsi leader Jimmy Gajdhar
They have traditionally dominated business and commerce in the country's finance capital, Bombay.

Prominent Indian business houses such as the Tatas, the Wadias and Godrej are all Parsis.

But with a fast depleting population, the prosperous community is in the midst of an identity crisis and Parsi elders are debating ways to save the community from extinction.

Small but successful

The Parsis are a small community who stick together and guard their culture and customs zealously.

Nearly a third of the world's 125,000 Parsis live in Bombay.

With deaths outweighing births, Parsis may be a dying community demographically but they are quite high on the Indian social ladder.

Parsi women
A community that has integrated well
"In the old days, the Parsis were the most highly educated. They were able to get jobs which were of a higher category than others," says Jimmy Gajdhar, head of the Parsi community in India.

"That is why they prospered and that is why they carried on trade with foreign countries," he says.

Small Parsi restaurants dot many parts of Bombay and are quite popular.

Although the profits are small, they have a lot of character and have become a part of the local culture.

But the Parsis also have a tradition of working successfully on a bigger scale.

Well respected

Whether it's a soap factory or setting up the country's first steel plant more than a hundred years ago, some of the biggest names in Indian business are Parsis.

The community has very successfully managed the advantages of being small

Adi Godrej, Parsi industrialist
Their knowledge of English, trading skills and global outlook made them a favourite with the British and the community hasn't looked back since.

Though the Parsis have maintained their exclusivity - by discouraging conversions and inter-religious marriages - their enterprise has helped them integrated well with the local population.

"The Parsis have always integrated sufficiently [and] the major communities in India - the Hindus, the Muslims - have always respected the Parsis," says Adi Godrej Chairman, Godrej Group.

"The community has very successfully managed the advantages of being small without any of the disadvantages of being small."

Parsi elders
Parsi elders are worried about their fewer numbers
Recently, Bombay's Parsis celebrated the release of a new coffee table book on the community.

But the book is not confined to the success of Parsis in India.

It reflects the concerns of a community worried about its future.

The Parsis have decreased in the last 100 years and the number of old vastly outnumber the young.

The number of single Parsis is also on the rise.

If the present trend continues there may be no more than 25,000 Parsis in 20 years.

Their dwindling numbers now pose the biggest challenge for the community elders.

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