The Parsi Dilemma: A New Zealand Perspective
The Parsis of India are a very small but important ethnic group, traditionally living in Gujarat but in modern times mainly located in Bombay, where, under the British Raj, they established themselves as leading merchants, politicians and professional people with an influence far exceeding their numerical strength. Since Indian Independence in 1947, that influence has declined as has the total size of the Parsi community in India. Many members of the community have dispersed overseas and during the last twenty years, New Zealand has emerged as a growing destination of choice. Many reasons have been put forward both by academia and by members of the Parsi community itself for the steeply declining numbers ranging from religious and ethnic exclusivity to loss of fecundity and consequential fall in the birth-rate to below the sustainability level. In my initial research for this thesis, I became aware that one reason for the decline, which did not feature in academic discourses but which seemed to be important, was the significance of Parsi culture, in particular the traditional emphasis on individual achievement, at the expense of communal cohesion. In seeking to corroborate my hypothesis, along with whether or not the current drive to migrate from India to countries such as New Zealand is having a positive or negative influence on the long-term chances for Parsi survival, I have carried out in-depth interviews with a cross-section of Parsis now resident in New Zealand. The outcomes of these interviews, together with a careful study of Parsi history and an analysis of their very distinctive culture, form the basis for my study. These outcomes and analyses have created an overall picture, which has confirmed my belief that the most important contributing factor to demographic decline amongst the Indian Parsi community has been their traditional drive towards individual material success. They have also shown that individual choice has been the principle post-Independence migratory driving force. There are more negative than positive elements associated with this migratory drive with the future of both Parsi identity and Zoroastrianism under serious threat through increasing dispersal and religious, ethnic and cultural dilution. This deteriorating situation is further exacerbated by internal strife fuelled by passionate ethno-religious debate over the best way forward.