Mumbai: President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday lauded the contribution of Parsis to the country`s development but expressed concern over their dwindling population and hoped the trend of decline in their number can be arrested.
"While the demographic statistics indicate that the Zoroastrian community in India is declining by about 10 percent every decade, I nevertheless remain optimistic that this trend can be arrested. I have no doubt that a community that has such high literacy, talent and discipline is bound to continue on the path of advancement and growth," he said.
Hailing the community for its various qualities and contribution to the country, Mukherjee said "successive generations of Zoroastrians have sweetened our society."
He was speaking after inaugurating the 10th World Zoroastrian Congress, being held in Mumbai after 23 years.
The President praised Zoroastrians in India for their qualities of entrepreneurship, hard work and also philanthropy and said the community has produced legends like JRD Tata, Homi Bhabha and Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.
The community, while retaining its identity and culture, has uniquely merged over the centuries into India`s social, cultural and political fabric and made stellar contributions to the country`s development, he said.
"Whether it is in the world of business and industry, or art and letters, leading our defence forces or breaking new frontiers in the field of advanced science and technology, the Zoroastrian community in India has always extended itself and reached highest echelons of achievement and success.”
"Yet why is it that today the community has come to a cross roads where it feels threatened with extinction. Zoroastrianism, which was once the religion of millions in pre-Islamic Persia, now has less than 1,40,000 followers world wide and 1/3rd of this number is aged over 60. This is certainly a phenomenon that needs to be addressed very pragmatically and sensitively," he said.
The Centre, in its 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17), envisages several measures to protect and promote the interests of minorities, including those of the Zoroasrian community. The Jiyo Parsi programme is bound to achieve desired results, the President said."In Mumbai, it is acknowledged that it is the Parsi community which laid the foundation of industry," the President maintained.
He said the community`s contribution in charity and philanthropy was acknowledged even by Mahatma Gandhi.
"It`s significant, but not surprising, that in a recent function organised by a television channel to honour 25 Indian global icons, three were Parsis."
He said global bodies have launched initiatives to preserve the culture and heritage of Zoroastrian community.
"The UNESCO has taken some initiatives for preservation of Parsi Zoroastrian heritage. The United Nations General Assembly, supported by India and others, has recognised March 21 as the International Day of Nowroz.
"The UN has called upon all states to honour this festival`s significance by promoting peace and goodwill,” he said.
The President welcomed the delegates from abroad who have arrived for the four-day event.
The Congress would reflect on the challenges facing the Zoroastrian community the world over and hopefully take initiatives to ensure that the respected community grows in numbers, Mukherjee added.