27 February, 2021

That Inward-Looking Mirror

A ‘jocular’ ad campaign to shore up Parsi numbers raises hackles with its old, gender-skewed tropes of ‘purity’

That Inward-Looking Mirror

In a recent documentary Qissa-e-Parsi: The Parsi Story, Dasturji Khurshed, head priest at the Parsi pilgrim town of Udvada in south Gujarat, says, “If we don’t change, we are not going to survive.” He is talking about the Parsis’ long-standing issue with girls who marry out, and how accepting them into the fold could strengthen community numbers. But some ads, that were created as part of the government-funded Jiyo Parsi scheme and have gone viral, take several steps backward from such progressive views. In one of the more provocative print ads, put together by adman Sam Balsara of Madison World and his daughter Lara, Parsi couples are told to “be responsible, don’t use a condom tonight”. In short, make babies—and make a joke of it, as the humorous Parsi community is wont to.

Divya Cowasji, a 27-year-old Parsi filmmaker-photographer who co-dir­ected Qissa-e-Parsi, isn’t amused in the least. “I’m appalled. While the rest of India is being told to have fewer children, there is actually...

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