Law

Cannot Deny a Woman the Right to Perform Parents’ Last Rites, Observes SC

The Supreme Court asked the Valsad Parsi Trust to apprise it by December 14 whether it could allow the complainant to attend the last rites of her parents.

Supreme Court. Credit: PTI

Supreme Court. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s constitution bench today gave time till December 14 to the trustees of Parsi Anjuman, Valsad in Gujarat, to reconsider its earlier decision of denying permission to Parsi women married outside their religion to perform their parents’ last rites.

The bench, comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, after hearing the counsel representing a Parsi woman married to a Hindu, suggested to the counsel representing the trust to consider whether a compromise could be arrived at.

The bench made the suggestion to the trust’s senior counsel, Gopal Subramanium and Percy Ghandy, to obtain instructions from their clients. As both sought time to obtain instructions, the bench said that its next hearing of the case on December 14 would depend on the trust’s decision.

“We record our appreciation for taking the suggestion in extremely good spirit,” the bench recorded in its order.

The bench reasoned that for a daughter, it is an emotional occasion to perform the last rites of her parents, and therefore, one cannot possibly deny her right to perform the last rites. The Chief Justice suggested to the counsel to persuade their clients to be less rigid and be sensitive to a daughter’s affection for her parents. “There can be a debate for hours on the questions raised by the petitioner,” the Chief Justice added.

“You are making some dreams come true. There are a large number of trustees. We need time. We have to take a uniform position. We will look at a collective solution humanistically, metaphysically and philosophically. What you suggested is wonderful. We will do our best,” Subramanium assured the bench.

However, the petitioner’s counsel, Indira Jaising, cautioned the bench that the issues raised by the petitioner “are not going to leave us, anyway”.

The petitioner, Goolrokh M. Gupta is a Parsi-Zoroastrian who married a Hindu. Goolrokh contends that even after her marriage, she continues to follow Zoroastrianism, and therefore, has the right to enjoy all privileges under the religion, including the right to offer prayers at Agiari (Parsi temple comprising of the Holy fire) and a tower of silence for funeral.

Goolrokh contended that a Parsi woman Dilbar Valvi, after she got married to a Hindu man, was not allowed by the trustees of Valsad Parsi Anjuman to attend her late father’s ceremonies in the tower of silence.

Goolrokh further contended that if a male Parsi-Zoroastrian marries a non-Parsi or a non-Zoroastrian, he continues to enjoy all the rights, whereas if a female Parsi Zoroastrian marries a non-Parsi or a non-Zoroastrian male, such rights are not recognised or permitted by the respondents. She alleged the trust practised discrimination, violating Articles 14 and 25 of the constitution.

The petitioner also emphasised that there is nothing in the Zoroastrian religion or scriptures which denies any Parsi Zoroastrian woman married to non-Parsi non-Zoroastrian her rights.

The petitioner, apprehending that in the event of demise of any of her parents, she would be denied her rights, first approached the Gujarat high court which held that a woman’s decision as to which religion she follows is dependent upon the religion of her father, and after her marriage, on that of her husband.

Goolrokh submitted before the Supreme Court that the high court’s rationale is based on the ancient feudal notion of women being regarded as chattels. Despite clear legal position favouring her, the high court committed a grave error by forbidding her from freely practicing her religion, which is deeply misogynist, and hampers women’s empowerment, she said in her appeal against the high court verdict.