In a path-breaking initiative by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 14th December, 2017, the Valsad Parsi Anjuman Trust, on the urging of the apex court, has reconsidered its earlier stand and taken a progressive step by allowing inter-married Parsi women, Goolrukh Gupta and her sister Shiraz Patodia, into the tower of silence to perform the last rites of her relatives. Goolrukh Gupta, was excommunicated from Parsi religious activities and rights to enter religious places of worship, including fire temples and towers of silence, after she married outside the religion.
The five-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra quashed the earlier Gujarat High Court order, ruling that Gupta does not lose the right to enter Parsi temples or participate in other religious rituals because she married outside her community. As per news reports, “the bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan said the concession for Goolrokh to enter the tower of silence would also be available to her sister Shiraz Contractor Patodia, who was her advocate on record in the SC and is also married to a non-Parsi. They will now be allowed entry into the tower of silence. With Goolrokh, her children and her sister getting entry into the tower of silence, this could possibly lead to similar benefits to other Parsi women married outside the community.”
Gopal Subramanium, lawyer for the Valsad Parsi Anjuman, said that the decision was taking after consulting with the high priests of the Parsi community. The Supreme Court commended this compassionate stand taken by the Anjuman. Other legal issues covering the larger scope of inter-married Parsi women’s religious rights will be heard next year in January, 2018.
Goolrukh Gupta had married a non-Parsi, under the Special Marriage Act in 1991, and under the Parsi customary law, also lost the right to visit the ‘Tower of Silence’ in the event of her father’s death to perform the last rites. She had approached the courts seeking a declaration that she should not be barred from attending the funeral of her father merely because she has married outside the religion. However, in 2010, the Gujarat High Court upheld the customary law, which Gupta went on to challenge in the Supreme Court. As residents of Valsad, Dina and Adi Contractor, Goolrukh’s aged parents, come under Valsad Anjuman’s decade old resolution which does not allow entry to inter-married Parsi women in its local fire temple and tower of silence.
The reconsideration could very well affect changes in laws governing the personal lives of Parsis in India. The Supreme Court’s decision came as no surprise as the five-judge Constitution bench had already indicated earlier how its decision may turn out, by asking the Parsi Anjuman in Valsad to reconsider Gupta’s plea and allow her to attend the funeral of her father, when he passes away, observing she hasn’t “surrendered her affection to father” and that “DNA does not evaporate” after marrying outside the religion, as “marrying under the Special Marriage Act is only for the retention of original identity”.
In keeping with the confusion caused by various media reports and interpretations, Managing Trustee, Valsad Parsi Anjuman Trust, Sam Chothia, issued the following clarification:
“It is incorrect to state that the Hon. Supreme Court has permitted the petitioner (Neha ‘Goolrookh’ Gupta) or any other non-Zoroastrian lady to enter the two Agiaries in Valsad.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court has by way of an interim arrangement (on December 14), and on compassionate grounds, provided that in the event of the demise of either of the parents of the petitioner, she and her sister should be permitted to attend the funeral and 4-day after death prayers performed in the bungli or funeral parlour. The above 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 Hon. Supreme Court made on December 7, 2017. The matter has been fixed for hearing on all issues on 17.1.2018.”
Reactions from the Community:
“Oh Praise God thank you! Now if we could just get legitimacy for our children to enter!”
“Till now I was confident that the Parsi community will survive for many more years. This is the beginning of the end…”
“Great judgement why are men given all rights when married outside community and why not women? Judgement, I think, is fantastic. There should be one law for all. Well done, Goolrukh Gupta!”
“The Goolrukhs and Sanayas shout from the rooftops about “rights”. Hope we now hear about “responsibilities” towards the religion too!”
“Most of the people in our community are hypocrites, but I salute you (Goolrukh). I wish there were enough Real Men in our community to support you but never mind, you scored much higher than any one of us!”
“Firstly why the sudden change in name from Neha Gupta to Goolrukh Gupta? Also, if she’s so much interested in the religion is she ready to relinquish all her rights to any property that she is likely to inherit? Is this all due to the fact that now the parents being 85, both sisters would have lost their right to inherit any (Trust) property of their parents? Religion just seems to be an excuse here.”
Thank you to the Supreme Court Judges, who have shown more concern for the unity and cohesion and survival of our community than some claiming to be Zarthushtis and harassing a loving daughter, trying to exclude her. Making anyone feel excluded is sinful, but to do so when men doing the same thing are not excluded, is both bigotry and discrimination.”