Always a tiny drop in India’s vast population, the Parsi community adapted quickly to British colonial rule. Its merchant class built connections with India’s diverse communities. After independence, they filled key roles in science, industry and trade. Parsi trusts bankrolled affordable housing projects and scholarships and propped up important institutions like the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the National Center for Performing Arts.
Prominent Parsis include the founders of the vast Tata conglomerate, plus early members of the Indian independence movement and the Indian National Congress, once the dominant political party. The most famous Parsi outside India might be Freddie Mercury, the Queen singer, who was born Farrokh Bulsara.
But the community’s population, which totaled 114,000 in 1941, now numbers around 50,000 by some estimates. The drop has been so drastic that — even as India considers measures to discourage more children in some states — the government has incentivized Parsi couples to have more children, to apparently little effect.
Walk into a Parsi business in Mumbai, home to India’s biggest concentration of Parsis, and you’ll hardly see anyone under 50. Parsi restaurants have the feel of a senior citizens’ club.
That community in Mumbai sees about 750 deaths a year and only about 150 births, according to local leaders. In Surat, another city where Parsis made a name, deaths have almost tripled over the past three years, while births remain few.
“When your numbers fall, where are you going to find that same number of people who excel in their fields?” said Jehangir Patel, who edits the Parsiana, one of the oldest magazines dedicated to the community.
The question of continuity hangs over even the most renowned name in the Parsi community: the Tata family, which runs one of the world’s largest business empires.