Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Overhaul Parsi Matrimonial Law

Phiroze Khan, 87, our friend and insurance agent for many decades is a remarkable gentleman. A loyal employee of Bombay Dyeing for many years, he worked really hard as an insurance agent to bring up four children including the magic touch dentist, Dr.Burzin Khan. A resident of Cusrow Baug, Phiroze is a keen follower of community affairs and is one of the delegates of the Parsi Matrimonial Court. He is upset with us due to this column stating that the delegate system is a hindrance rather than any help to the Presiding Judge. Although we hold him in high regard and affection, we reiterate that the delegate system should be done away with. We think it is high time that the Parsi matrimonial laws are overhauled.

Berjis Desai | Mumbai Samachar

We call upon the BPP in general and Dinshaw Mehta in particular to take the lead. Both as Chairman and State Minority Commission member, it is time that Mehta initiates this move. The two lady trustees(one being the next chairperson) must take an interest, considering the suffering it entails, usually to our women. Given the dollops of goodwill the community enjoys, parliament should be happy to prioritise the amending legislation to alter the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act. Our new Parsi MP, Anu Aga will be delighted to move this bill (yes, the same lady whom our community did not want as a BPP trustee but whom the nation has honoured). We shall be happy to circulate a draft legislation to elicit community consensus and then ask Aga to move it as a private bill or let the minister move an official bill. The BPP should constitute a small committee of professionals to help this initiative.

For a start, do something about the delegates. Few know that under the same BPP trustee election scheme, the delegates are to be elected. Once upon a time, these elections were hotly contested. However, with the advent of universal adult franchise, it is not practical to have the entire community to vote for these delegates, so the existing delegates are merrily continuing beyond their term. So the trustees must seek directions from the High Court that they be allowed to nominate delegates until the scheme is formally amended or the matrimonial laws are altered to abolish the delegate system. Hopefully, the trustees will nominate wisely, meaning more ladies and none above 70 (with due respect to Phiroze Khan and his co delegates). This should be done immediately.

Following the famous Nanavati murder trial where a dashing Parsi naval commander shot dead his wife’s lover in flagrant delicto, India abolished the jury system. However, this quasi jury of parsis somehow survived and is supposed to assist the judge on questions of fact. The system no longer is effective and is an anachronism which slows down the proceedings. (E su boli? Kon jaane, mane bi kaeen samjayoon nahin!). As it is, the High Court judges are overworked and a judge has to be assigned this additional Parsi matrimonial work which results in hardly two sittings in a year and contested divorces take as long as five to seven years.

This is the era of specialist courts and tribunals. The Family Court is one such and possesses expertise and experience to quickly dispose matrimonial disputes, as they only handle cases of this nature. A High court judge may be a highly superior judicial mind but may have little experience of matrimonial matters. Again a Family Court is in session all the time. If Parsis like all other communities are also made subject to the Family court, contested divorces will be disposed in less than half the time taken now. Litigants can avail of the benefit of specialised lawyers who have to specially come to the Parsi matrimonial Court. Even the High Court administration will be pleased with this proposal to shift to the Family Court.

There are other changes required such as making irretrievable breakdown a ground for divorce instead of inventing stories of mental cruelty and the like. We shall continue to remind BPP until we see action. Phiroze Khan’s services can be availed of by a grateful community in some other field. We trust that he shall not be upset any more.