New Delhi:The Supreme Court on Thursday disagreed with the Bombay high court’s ruling that a woman’s religion merged with her husband’s faith after marriage and requested the Valsad Zoroastrian Trust to reconsider its decision barring a Parsi woman from entering the Tower of Silence to perform the last rites of her parents only because she married outside the community.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan said it appeared to be manifestly arbitrary that a Parsi man marrying outside the community was not barred from entering the Tower of Silence but a woman in a similar situation was barred.

Marriage can never denude a woman’s civil rights: SC

Appreciating the arguments of senior advocate Indira Jaising, on behalf of Goolrokh M Gupta who married a Hindu and has been barred from entering the Tower of Silence by the Valsad trust, the bench said, “Marriage does not mean a woman mortgages herself to her husband. Prima facie, we do not accept this merger principle (propounded by Bombay HC to uphold restraining Goolrokh from performing the last rites of her parents).”

The bench said marriage could never be a ground to denude the civil rights of a woman. “There is no law which debars a woman from entering the Tower of Silence after marrying outside the community,” it said. Incidentally, Goolrokh’s advocate on record in the SC is her sister Shiraz Contractor Patodia. Their parents are both aged 84 years. Given Goolrokh’s marriage outside the community and the restraint imposed on her entry into the Tower of Silence, she had moved the HC seeking permission to perform her parents’ last rites when they pass away. But the HC ruled in favour of the trust, forcing her to bring the matter to the SC. The bench also considered Jaising’s reference to the Special Marriage Act and said, “Special Marriage Act was enacted so that a man and woman professing different faiths can marry and retain their religious identity after marriage. There is no question of merger of woman’s religion with that of her husband’s. Only she on her own volition can give up her religion. If a woman was to merge her religion with her husband’s religion after marriage, then Special marriage Act was not required to be enacted.”

The SC told the Valsad trust to shun rigidity and understand the importance of filial emotions of a child towards parents. It requested the trust’s counsel Gopal Subramanium and Percy Ghandy to consult the trustees and persuade them to take a progressive stand.