Parsi woman contests Raj-era personal law


November 23, 2017

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Encouraged by Muslim women’s successful fight against triple talaq, a Parsi woman has moved the Supreme Court questioning the validity of many provisions of Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, alleging that these made estranged couples of her community go through a torturous exercise to get divorce.

Article by Dhananjay Mahapatra | TNN


Naomi Sam Irani had moved a Parsi matrimonial suit early last year before the Bombay high court seeking dissolution of her 11-year-old marriage, from which the couple has a 10-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter.

Keeping aside the reasons for filing the divorce suit, Irani, through counsel Neela Gokhale, said the procedure under the 1938 personal law was exasperatingly cumbersome, involving a system akin to jury decision, and granted no access to mediation and settlement available to Hindu women under the family court system.

‘Parsi matrimonial court sits just twice a year’

She said though it was close to one and a half years since she had moved the HC for divorce, till date “there has been no appointment of delegates as contemplated under the PMDA to participate in the pending matrimonial proceedings, depriving the petitioner of speedy disposal of her case”.

Irani said Section 18 of PMDA provides for constitution of special courts in Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai where the chief justice of the HC concerned would have jurisdiction to appoint a judge who would be aided by five delegates, which together would decide alimony, maintenance as well as custody and maintenance of children and their education.

“These delegates… act like jury and the case is decided by majority decision. It is a fact that Parsi chief matrimonial court sits only once or twice a year… only for a short duration. In view of increase in divorce petitions, jury as a fact finding body practically impedes speedy justice,” Irani said and requested the SC to do away with the jury system.

“The jury delegates adjudicate a divorce petition based on their personal notion of societal norms, morality and ethics, which may not be in sync with the principles of natural justice and the ethos and dynamics of society,” Irani said and sought replacement of this system with the procedure provided under family courts, which attempts to provide speedy settlement through reconciliation.

She said PMDA demands that the divorce suit be filed before Parsi matrimonial courts, thus inconveniencing estranged couples who work away from the metropolitan cities. This went against the SC’s stand that matrimonial disputes be filed at the family court nearest to the woman’s residence, she said.

“Thus, the fundamental right to life and liberty, which includes the right to speedy justice, is being denied to a particular community…” Irani said.