Parsi sisters move SC seeking freedom to enter religious places

Kindling hope for a large number of Parsi women who marry outside their religion, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition challenging a decision by its religious council banning their entry into Fire Temple or the Tower of Silence to participate in the funeral ceremonies of their parents and relatives.

Article by Harish V. Nair | India Today

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The petition filed by a Parsi woman Goolrokh M. Gupta and her sister Shiraz Contractor Patodia, who is also a lawyer, has been pending in the SC for the past three years. The sisters challenged a 2012 Gujarat High Court judgment upholding decision of Parsi Anjuman Trust (Valsad, Gujarat) which imposed the controversial ban.

Goolrokh and Shiraz, whose husbands were Hindus, said they are not just ready for such excommunication and want to participate in the last rites of their parents.

“Our parents are in their 80s. While we hope that they live long and healthy lives, life is not certain. In the unfortunate event of either of our parents, we have a right to attend the funeral, participate and perform the last rites as per the Parsi Zoroastrian religion,” Shiraz says in the petition.

On a mentioning by senior lawyer Siddharth Luthra, a bench headed by Chief Justice H. L. Dattu fixed the plea for detailed hearing on April 7. The petition also raised a question of importance in the context of women’s rights post their marriage to freely exercise their right to preach any religion.

The controversial ruling of the High Court meant that a woman who enters into wedlock, even under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, outside her religion is deemed to have changed her religion to that of her husband thereby losing the right to practice her own religion.

Goolrokh cites the example of one Dilbar Valvi, a Parsi woman who married a Hindu. Valvi was denied right to attend funeral of her mother at the “Tower of Silence” by the Anjuman Trust. Goolrokh’s parents are alive but she moved the High Court knowing that she would meet the same fate unless there was a direction allowing her to enter the Fire Temple and Tower of Silence.

The HC had ruled that upon her marriage, a woman is “deemed and presumed” to have acquired the religious status of her husband. The sisters said: “It’s wrong to say that the rule applied even to marriages solemnised under the Special marriages Act which is a special statute specifically enacted by legislature to register a special form of marriage where neither of the parties to the marriage is required to renounce their religion.”

Sources in the Parsi Anjuman said: “A board of trust cannot act contrary to what the general body has passed. We did that as per our customs, traditions and advice from the high priests.”