Can marriage deprive women of their religion? Parsi woman asks Supreme Court of India


April 4, 2015

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Can a woman be prohibited from practising her religion if she marries a man from a different religion? Is she bound to follow her husband’s religion? Can her religious places bar her from offering prayers if she marries outside the community?

Article by Dhananjay Mahapatra | Times of India

These are some of the questions 46-year-old Goolrookh M Gupta, nee Contractor, has asked the Supreme Court. She has challenged the rationale behind a “misogynistic” judgment by Gujarat High Court, which had upheld Valsad Parsi Anjuman Trust’s decision to bar her from offering prayers at the Agiyari after she married a Hindu. The apex court agreed to hear the plea on April 28.

Goolrookh, who has old parents, had moved the HC after learning that another Parsi woman, Dilbar Valvi, also married to a Hindu, was not allowed to attend the funeral of her father and mother by the Valsad Parsi Anjuman on the ground that she was no longer a Parsi.

The HC, by a two to one majority, upheld the Anjuman’s view. “The HC judgment is a grave affront to India’s constitutional order which mandates adherence to basic human rights, dignity, religious freedom, gender equality and a uniform civil code,” Goolrookh said in her petition.

What was the use of making women’s right and empowerment the most talked about point when even an HC gave a judgment which was based on “the ancient feudal notion of women being regarded as chattels, an expression essentially reflecting the position of dominion over women by men”, she said.

“There is no law in India which says that a woman must adopt her husband’s name or religion upon marriage, she said. On the contrary, Parliament had enacted Special Marriage Act in 1954 to enable two persons belonging to different religions to enter into marriage without either having to renounce his or her religion and/or convert into the religion of the other,” she argued.

Despite the law being in force for more than 60 years, the HC “concluded that by virtue of her marriage to a non-Parsi, she ceases to be a Parsi”.

Goolrookh said though the judgment was on a petition filed by her, its effect would be used against all those women who marry outside their religion.

“The HC proceeds on a principle, stated to be ‘generally accepted throughout the world’, that until her marriage, a woman’s decision as to which religion she follows is dependent upon the religion of her father and after her marriage, it is dependent on that of her husband,” she said.

Goolrookh added that renunciation and acceptance of a religion was always preceded by a ceremony. While she was initiated into Zoroastrianism, she had never been initiated into Hindusim, she said.

Goolrookh said different Parsi denominations across the world (including India) applied different rules of conduct on Parsi women married to non-Parsi men.

“Agiyaris/trusts situated in Delhi, Pardi, Kanpur, Chennai, Kolkata, Jabalpur, Allahabad, Daman, Chikhli, Jamshedpur, Vadodara, London, Ontario (Canada), Florida and Chicago (US) do not prohibit Parsi women married to non-Parsi men from entering or offering prayers at the Agiyaris or participating in Parsi religious ceremonies,” she said.