Supreme court allows Parsi women in Inter-faith marriages to attend family member's last rites

Updated: Dec 15, 2017, 17:46 IST | Gaurav Sarkar

In a Supreme Court hearing on Thursday, Parsi woman in inter-faith marriage is granted permission to attend last rites of family members

Yesterday brought the first victory for Parsi women who marry outside the religion, only to be barred from entering the community's places of worship. This victory comes in the form of Goolrokh Gupta, (née Contractor), a Parsi woman who married a Hindu man, who was yesterday granted the right to attend the last rites for family members when the need arises.

Goolrokh Gupta (nee Contractor) and her sister Shiraz Contractor Patodia (right), have both been granted interim permission to attend last rites of family members
Goolrokh Gupta (nee Contractor) and her sister Shiraz Contractor Patodia (right), have both been granted interim permission to attend last rites of family members

While this is a landmark moment for the community, it is only a partial victory. The Supreme Court is yet to decide on the larger issue of the ban on women who marry outside the faith. A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra is hearing the case. In Thursday's hearing, the Valsad Parsi Anjuman Trust, agreed in court, as an interim measure, to allow Goolrokh to join the funeral and four-day after-death prayers performed in the funeral parlour of the doongerwadi. The next hearing will take place on January 17.

In 2012, the Gujarat High Court had said that Goolrokh ceased to be a Parsi when she married outside her faith under the Special Marriages Act. Goolrokh, a resident of Mahalaxmi, says the SC's interim order has proved to be really encouraging, and that the road ahead now looks more hopeful.

"This is a step in the right direction," said Goolrokh, adding, "We were really disappointed by the Gujarat High Court judgement. That's why we approached the Supreme Court." "Justice delayed is not justice denied. We are fighting so that all the rights that Parsi Zoroastrian men get – even if they marry outside their faith – should also be given to the women. Men are allowed to enter Aatash Behrams, fire temples, and conduct the funeral rites of their parents and relatives at the Tower of Silence. We should also get to do the same."

'Gujarat trustees do dadagiri'
Goolrokh went on to describe how, in cities outside Gujarat, Parsi women are allowed to enter fire temples and take part in rituals, but it was only in Gujarat, especially small towns like Valsad, where the "trustees do their dadagiri."

"It is in the smaller towns that trustees deny these rights to Parsi women in inter-faith marriages. If it is a question of religion and custom, then it should be uniform and equal everywhere, across all cities. Jabalpur, Calcutta, Kanpur, Baroda — they all allow Parsi women in inter-faith marriages to come enter temples and perform the rituals," she said.

"Earlier, even in Valsad, women who were married outside their faith were allowed to do the same. It is only after 2003, when the new trustees came in, that they stopped allowing us according to their whims and fancy. For men, they kept the same rules. But rules should be equal for men and women," the 51-year-old emphasised.

Mumbai's concession
Goolrokh pointed out that in Mumbai, a Parsi woman married outside her faith can give an affidavit to the Parsi Panchayat, stating that she is not converting and will continue to practice Zoroastrian faith even after marriage. "In Gujarat, there is no such consideration of any affidavit. If you're not married to a Parsi, you're out," she said, adding, "The road ahead looks very hopeful, when you get an interim order like this. We are looking at a positive change in the future, one that will make sure that we get our rights."

Sister says
Shiraz Contractor Patodia, Goolrokh's elder sister and also her senior counsel, appeared in the apex court for yesterday's hearing on behalf of her sister. "The interim order is very good. Suppose something were to happen to our parents; we will at least be right there, next to them, when the last rites are performed. Nobody can throw us out from he ceremony. The rest of the prayers in our petition will be heard during the January 17 hearing. I am 200% optimistic that the SC will grant relief."

Community reacts

Sam R Chothia, managing trustee, Valsad Parsi Anjuman Trust
'It is incorrect to state that the SC has permitted the petitioner or any other non-Zoroastrian lady to enter the two agiaries in Valsad. The interim order was passed on the basis that the Valsad Parsi Anjuman Trust agreed on compassionate grounds and out of deference to the suggestion of the SC'.

Dinshaw Mehta, former trustee, Bombay Parsi Punchayet
'The SC decision in the Goolrokh Gupta matter as reported is not clear and further clarifications are required. It is necessary to take from her an affidavit affirming that she has not converted and continues to profess the Zoroastrian religion'.

Dinshaw Tamboly, former trustee, Bombay Parsi Punchayet
'I think this is a step in the positive direction, and shows a positive attitude for the next hearing to be held in January'.

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