Parsi - Marriage and Family

Marriage. The Parsis are a strictly monogamous and endogamous group. At one time there was an avoidance of Marriage between priestly and nonpriestly families. Given these restrictions and the small size of the community, it is not surprising that close consanguineal and affinal relatives are potential mates. Cross- and parallel-cousin marriages are permitted, as well as intergenerational marriages (e.g., between uncle and niece), though the occurrence of the latter is rare—less than 1 percent of all marriages in 1961. The greatest problem faced by the community today is a decrease in the number of marriages and a decreasing fertility rate. Since the 1950s deaths have consistently outnumbered births every year among Parsis, producing an aging population. This Decline has two causes. Since independence in 1947 many younger Parsis have emigrated from India, thus strengthening the sense of crisis; and Parsi women who marry non-Parsis are strictly excluded along with their offspring from the Community. The question of accepting children of such marriages, as well as converts to Zoroastrianism, is being vehemently debated among Parsis both in India and abroad. There appears to be a progressive attitude among the overseas Parsis that may in the future lead to a broadening of the definition of a Parsi. Parsi divorce rates are higher than those for other Indian communities because, when compared to Hindu law, Parsi law has always made divorce easier. The education and economic emancipation of females also contributes to the high divorce rate. Remarriage after the death of a spouse is permitted for both sexes. Adoption is permitted and is common.

Domestic Unit, Parsis traditionally lived together as extended families. Owing to space constraints in the cities, however, nuclear families are common; and because of declining population, many elderly Parsis today live alone.

Inheritance. Both sons and daughters may inherit from both parents. There are no rules of primogeniture. Despite the above formal rules of inheritance, it is not uncommon for wealthy Parsis to leave their entire estates for charitable purposes: endowing schools, hospitals, fire temples, or the like. The stress on generosity and a sense of communal responsibility for the weak and needy fostered during childhood finds its expression in wills and trusts. Hence there has occurred a continuous redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.

Socialization. A great deal of conscious effort goes into the making of a Parsi child. Parsis were quick to grasp the value of Western education and were leaders in female education. It is no surprise then that the literacy rates among Parsis are extremely high (being 90 percent in 1961, when the average rate for Bombay was 57 percent). Both boys and girls are encouraged to prepare for careers. Child labor is not encouraged, and in 1961 only 0.06 percent of Parsis under age 15 were gainfully employed (as against 8.72 percent of all Maharashtrians). An essential part of a Parsi child's socialization is the nurturing of an awareness of his or her difference from other Indians. To this end there was a preference for Parsi schools endowed by Parsi charities and staffed entirely by Parsis, until the Indian government abolished sectarian education in the 1950s. The number of college graduates is extremely high. During the first half of the century the numbers of Parsis receiving professional degrees in law, medicine, and engineering were greatly out of proportion to their tiny numbers in the general population. Among overseas Parsis, Zoroastrian associations have been established with the explicit objective of instilling Parsi identity in the young. The Parsi child is constantly obliged to conform to a moral code derived from the Zoroastrian motto, "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds." Transgression of this code of conduct embodying the virtues of honesty, charity, and cleanliness is seen as not only a personal but also a communal failure. A child is inducted into the Parsi moral code through the Ceremony of naojot. Such constant reminders of a child's Parsi identity are essential if the community is to enforce its rules of endogamy in a secular and nonsectarian world.

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Parsi religion is non threatening and non-predatory. The religion accepts no converts.This exclusive characteristic makes a Parsi man or woman the spouse of choice for successful professionals, industrialists, politicians, artists and actors of all other religions. Today nuclear
Parsi families exercise varying levels of ethics, tradition, and moral code, and the high reputation of parsis is slowly consigned to history.

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