The Parsi Zoroastrians are often seen as a medical paradox. On the one side, there are numerous members of the community working energetically into their nineties, while on the other side, the Parsis have some of the world’s most unusual allergies, among the highest rates of cancer, serious eye problems and other diseases.
Any analysis of medical data needs to consider the sudden drop in fertility within the community in the last two generations. Is this due to genetic or sociological reasons?
Dr.Anahita Pandole of working with the help of the BPP has stated that almost 90% of infertility cases among the Parsis can be treated with correct intervention. She has kindly consented to assist the community and Parzor is sharing her paper and information as a service to the community. For information about help available Click here.
At the beginning of the Project, the importance of conducting research, analysis and collation of traditional Parsi medical methods and herbal remedies was realized and the traditions still maintained by the bonesetters, vaids, hakims that are still available but will soon become extinct were to be studied and recorded. Translation and publication of this information can be undertaken for the benefit of the allopathic school and the general public.
It was felt that data be collated at Parsi Institutions such as the Parsi General Hospital, Mumbai, and Nariman Home, Surat. The Parsi General Hospital could become a centre for a Medical Databank storing and providing information immediately to the community.
During field trips a major issue that came up for discussion was the demographic and medical profile of the community. The empty Parsi Vads and Vadis of the Hajira belt, bear silent testimony to the loss of numbers. There is tremendous economic activity in this region. Massive industrial estates run by giants like Essar, Reliance, Kribhco, tower over the landscape. Very few notice the silent deserted Parsi villages just off the highway. Why did the villagers leave? Did they just die out?
Medical & Sociological Research
Clinical, cellular, molecular and genetic studies, which will complement socio-economic and attitudinal studies are being undertaken. The first study by Dr. Narendra Joshi has begun on the Molecular Typing of HLA Alleles of Parsi Women with Breast Cancer. Funded by the Lady Tata Memorial Trust and supported by the Parzor project, Dr. Joshi’s work is being carried out at the Cancer Research Institute, Tata Memorial Mumbai. Dr. Joshi has appealed for participation in the study and details are provided along with his address for those who would like to take part in this important research.
Under the demographic and health module four studies involving medical issues have been initiated recently.
Dr. Nadir Bharucha and Dr. Thomas Kuruvilla, Dept. of Neuroepdemiology, Medical Research Centre, Bombay Hospital, Mumbai are studying the Prevalence of Neurological Disease and Hypertension in the Parsi Community. Since the Parsis suffer from a very high rate of these disorders, along with sub optimal control of hypertension, it is important to try and initiate health activities once the results of the study are complete. The study will also focus on epilepsy in order to initiate medical activities and reduce mortality rates for this group.
Dr. P.K. Gadhia, Dept. of Biosciences, South Gujarat University, Surat, has begun the Haematological, Biochemical and Cytogenetic Study on Parsis. The main objective of this study is to obtain information of the different genetic factors affecting the community with special emphasis on chromosomal disorders and other diseases. Due to their small numbers and continual inbreeding, the Parsis face problems that have a genetic base like the G6PD syndrome. This study, which will explore these issues and deficiencies, also aims at taking remedial action in the future for the benefit of the community.
Dr. J. V. Undevia of the Cancer Research Institute, Mumbai has undertaken a critical over view as the Review of Genetic Studies on the Parsis of India. The extensive data, which he is gathering will form a basis for future work during the genomic millennium. This will also suggest steps for initiating action to develop programmes and provide information not just for the Parsi community but the other groups identified as being vulnerable to similar problems.
Mrs.Katy Gandevia, Department of Medical and Psychiatric Social work, TISS is undertaking a survey among medical practitioners in Mumbai to elicit their knowledge of the recurrent medical problems of their Parsi patients.
These scientific studies are just the beginning of this Health Module. The aim is to work out a strategy of research, which will culminate in positive steps towards addressing and redressing some of these issues.
In many ways, the situation of the Parsi Zoroastrians in India reflects that of any rapidly urbanized community and the studies and findings would therefore be of relevance to all sociological and medical research in a rapidly changing age and country.
From the medical point of view, some diseases seem to have higher rates of prevalence amongst Parsi Zoroastrians and medical researchers would find it useful to study such diseases with a focused target population in the hope of finding possible remedies. There is a link between the social, socio-psychological and physical health of a community.
Three sociological and demographic studies, on Youth, the Elderly and the Family are also being conducted under this module.
Demographic transition among the Parsis: A study of the Familial, Marital and Socio-Psychological dimensions – Dr. Shalini Bharat, Head Unit for Family Studies TISS, Mumbai.
A study of Parsi Youth in India – Ms. Lata Narayan, Unit of child and Youth Research, TISS, Mumbai.
A study of the Elderly and Aging Community – Dr. S. Siva Raju, Unit for urban Studies, TISS, Mumbai.
In this major task of Introduction, Collation and Coordination of the Demographic and Health Module, we are happy to report that the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust has sanctioned funding for five of the above seven studies and that the BPP(Bombay Parsi Panchayat) is supporting the Studies of the Elderly(Dr. S Siva Raju) and the Study of Parsi Youth(Ms. Lata Narayan).
The Census will work along with Parzor on the Study of the Elderly. All these studies are based across India. In this way it is hoped a correct picture of the community across India will emerge and benefit all scientific and medical research.
By this cross spectrum of studies Parzor finally hopes to create for the first time in UNESCO history, a detailed social and health profile of a community.
All this research will feed into the Data Bank to be set up in Mumbai and help create a network of researchers in social work and the social sciences, medicine and the sciences, who will share their findings and provide opportunities for others to build on them in the future.
Please Contact Us and tell us how you would like to participate in furthering this Research.
A study of the Hadvaid tradition over the past few years of Parzor research has yielded very interesting insights. Those born in Gujarat will remember that before orthopaedists and physiotherapists became a part of our routine medical dictionary, the Parsis relied along with many others in Gujarat on the kick that cured.
Hadvaids or bonesetters who have across generations diagnosed and healed bone disorders, with their skill and their secret poultices. Linked with this was a system of massage and even today the Hadvaids of Ahmedabad, Surat, Baroda and Bombay have patients lining up outside their clinics from early morning.
The Madhiwala family was famous; the late Mancherji Madhiwala had been provided a Silver Pass on the railways, by the authorities because of his great gift of healing and charity. This humble farmer travelled the length of Gujarat healing fractures and dislocations, even slipped discs and other serious problems, with his poorer patients lining up to meet him at the railway stations on the route.
On our field trips in October 2001 in Gujarat, we spent a good deal of time filming and recording the Hadvaid tradition. Dr. Farokhshah Gustadji Bonesetter, his wife Villoo and son Dr. Jarsis Bonesetter are well known figures in Vadodara (Baroda). Jarsis is a qualified allopathic doctor, who studied in Mumbai but returned to join the family tradition of healing. They along with Dr. Dara Nadirshah Hadvaid and Dr. Noshir Burjorji Hadvaid of Ahmedabad, shared their knowledge of osteo-arthritis, sprains, strains, fractures and dislocations, sciatica and serious problems of the spinal column and their techniques of healing.
The Hadvaids rely on a highly developed sense of touch. A patient, Mr. Sheresh Shah at the Bonesetter Clinic in Baroda had fallen off his scooter after an accident. I don’t need an X-ray, we have come to this clinic for generations, we trust them 100%. This doctor is much better than an orthopaedic surgeon . His dislocated shoulder was set right before our very eyes, the whole sequence from pain to cure being recorded on camera.
The Hadvaids, relying on the evidence of their fingertips, palpate the muscles and ligaments of the patient to understand the problem and use manipulation to set bones into position and heal fractures. This is followed by anti-inflammatory applications of poultices or ‘laeps ‘. Earlier, Hadvaids did not use any oral medicines but as they laughingly commented earlier patients had more power to bear pain. Today some of them supplement their treatment with either homeopathic or allopathic pain relievers.
The system of laeps is interesting. The first is a white laep followed by a red or black laep depending on the swelling. The white laep is soothing and reduces inflammation and swelling. The red and black laeps are stronger and are used after either a week or ten days once the initial bruise or pain has subsided. All the Hadvaids forbid the use of sour or bitter foods and even tomatoes or curd are not allowed in some cases. The splints they use are made of bamboo and cardboard but the bandages and cotton are sterile. The philosophy is simple: for an initial injury heat is contraindicated because heat causes expansion. Cold contracts the blood vessels and the bleeding or haematoma decreases. The white laep acts like a cold compress, after initial healing the stronger red and black laeps restore circulation and muscle tone. The black laep is used sparingly for it is very strong.
The ingredients, which go into these poultices, are closely guarded family secrets but for the sake of medical research, some of the Hadvaids have shared these with Parzor. While many legends on the origin of these healers can be found across Gujarat it is obvious that this group of people have carried this great tradition from Iranian times, since many of their ingredients are from Iran and Central Asia.
Despite some of the rare ingredients used, the Hadvaids maintain a Zoroastrian sense of charity and keep their fees very low, even waiving fees for needy patients. Their charges seem absurd in the modern world of medicine; a dislocation or fracture is healed for just Rs. 120/- and the laeps range from Rs. 40/- to Rs. 80/- per application. Yet their skill cannot be measured in monetary terms. They all have a complete knowledge of anatomy, orthopaedics and pharmacology and make their own poultices with a chemist’s precision. While the younger Hadvaid no longer follows the famous kick for a slipped disc, patients who have been cured firmly believed in the efficacy of this method. All the Hadvaids we spoke to believe that they can diagnose cancer and TB of the skeletal system by touch and are proved correct following radiological examinations. Diseases like cancer and TB need other treatments and the Hadvaid immediately ensures that these patients are shifted to the correct hospitals.
At the conclusion of the first phase of health studies a seminar was held at the YB Chavan Centre Mumbai in December 2008. The findings of the researchers were presented. The recording of the discussion Click here and a note on action points needed has been added to the summaries of the presentations.
To read this Click here(To read the study summaries)