Why women lose right to conduct her religious rites after inter-religious marriage?

| | New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Thursday found it hard to comprehend how a woman who opts to marry outside her religion under the Special Marriages Act loses the right to worship or conduct the last rites of her dear ones, when similar discrimination does not attach to men who marry outside their religion.

This question bothered a five-judge Constitution Bench in a case relating to a Parsi woman who was denied the right to enter the "Tower of Silence" — a worship place of Parsis, after she married a Hindu man. In view of her marriage outside the community, the elders of the Parsi trust had even declared that she will not be permitted to conduct the last rites of her father in the event of his death.

Challenging these two disqualifications, the petitioner Goolrokh M Gupta through senior advocate Indira Jaising raised the question of gender discrimination and submitted that the issue at hand went to the root of constitutional identity of a woman who decides to keep her religious identity intact by opting for a marriage under the Special Marriages Act. She further pointed out, that the rule of disqualification against her does not attach to Parsi men who marry a woman outside their community.

The Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan was moved to ask, "We cannot perceive how one can discriminate between a man and a woman on ground of biological phenomenon. While a man who marries outside his community is permitted to enter the place of worship, a woman who chooses to do so is not permitted."

Although a similar question is pending consideration with the Court relating to entry of women at Sabarimala temple, the bench was convinced that this matter too should be heard along with the other case. However, few Parsi women, who had an inter-faith

marriage and were present in Court narrated a totally different account saying that the Parsi trust to which they belonged allowed even women to enter the place of worship and conduct last rites of dear ones, without discriminating them.

The Court understood that some trusts are rigid in their stand and decided to ask the Parsi trust in question to take instructions by next week on whether it was willing to make a "uniform" concession for the petitioner.



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