A Parsi woman on Thursday won her right to enter the Tower of Silence despite marrying outside the religion after the Valsad Parsi Anjuman Trust filed an undertaking permitting Goolrukh Gupta and her sisters to enter the Tower of Silence to offer prayers and participate in rituals in the event a family member passes away.For the moment, the Trust has extended its permission strictly limited to the petitioner and her sisters and not for all Parsi women who have married outside the faith. However, Gupta has not lost faith. Reacting to the news, the 51-year-old Mumbai resident is hopeful that Parsi women from small towns who have married outside the faith will be accorded the same right she has won today.”This is merely an interim order,” Shiraz Patodia — one of Gupta’s sisters and the advocate in this matter said. “The fate of other Parsi women and their rights will be decided when the court will hear the matter in the entirety,” she added.Goolrukh Gupta married her husband Mahipal Gupta, a Marwadi, more than 25 years ago, however in all that time she never forgot her faith and hardly ever skipped the daily ritual of tying the sudreh and kusti. The daughter of a trustee from Valsad, Gupta had the liberty to follow her religion, despite marrying outside the faith. However, things changed when the trustees changed.However, 15 years ago when a trustee, who had just then taken over — sometime in 2002-2003, took the hardliners approach, he all but excommunicated Gupta. Since then, Gupta was not allowed to enter the agyari (fire temple), nor participate in any religious rituals henceforth.Gupta had then filed a petition in court which, over the years finally reached the corridors of the Gujarat High Court. In their judgment, a three-judge bench 2:1 held that a Parsi woman who marries outside her faith ceases to be a Parsi. Dissatisfied with the verdict, Goolrukh had then approached the Supreme Court, challenging the HC judgment.”The last time I entered the Tower of Silence in Valsad was in 2003 when my maternal uncle passed away, Gupta said. That was also the last time she entered the fire temple there to attend the four-day prayers held for him.Thursday’s victory brings hope and cheer to the tiny, dwindling Parsi community which is under the threat of extinction. Numbering less than 50,000 now, an urgency has crept in among them. While some have taken refuge in the literal teachings of the text, others believe that Parsis need to reach out into the beyond. After all, they all want to survive.Last week, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra had observed that a woman does not mortgage herself to a man by marrying him. She retains her identity, including her religious identity, even after she exercises her right to marry outside her community under the Special Marriage Act.The top court’s observation came when a five-judge bench was hearing Gupta’s matter.Couples from different faiths who wish to retain their individual religious identities may opt for a marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, which ensures religious protection.Prima facie, the top court did not adhere to the principle of merger relied upon by the Gujarat High Court in denying Gupta the right to practice her faith.Representing Gupta, Senior Advocate Indira Jaising had sought the court’s indulgence to treat this case as an endorsement of inter-faith marriages. Those who marry outside their faith should be saddled with any disabilities, she added. Government data suggests that the Special Marriages Act is not used as often as it should be, she said.”The Tower of Silence is not a mutt or a citadel of a cult. It is a place to offer prayers to the dead. Can such a right of a woman be guillotined? It is part of her Constitutional identity,” CJI Misra had observed.The court’s decision favouring the Parsi woman’s right will create a paradigm shift for women within the minority community. Earlier this year, the top court recently ruled in favour of Muslim women by striking down instant triple talaq as unconstitutional.
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