Parsi woman awaits verdict as SC refers Sabarimala review petition to a larger bench

Thursday’s Supreme Court judgment which referred the Sabrimala review petition to a larger bench raised the issue of Parsi women’s entry to places of worship and sacred sites of ritual, raking up a matter that has caused much debate within the 61,000-strong Zoroastrian community in India.

A five-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi delivered a split verdict over the entry of women between the ages of 10-50 years inside Kerala’s Hindu shrine of Sabarimala.

The majority judgment stated: “The debate about the constitutional validity of practices entailing to restriction of women generally in the place of worship is not limited to this case, but also arises in respect of entry of Muslim women in a Durgah/Mosque as also in relation to Parsi women married to a non-Parsi into the holy fire place of an Agiyari.”

In 2017, the Supreme Court overruled a 2010 Gujarat high court verdict that found in favour of a customary law which prevented Mumbai-based plaintiff Goolrukh Gupta from visiting the Tower of Silence — a sacred space for death rituals — to perform her father’s last rites, as she had married a non-Zoroastrian. The Supreme Court, however, directed the fire temple in Valsad, Gujarat, to allow her entry and stated, “DNA does not evaporate” after marrying outside a religion.

However, the 2017 order was an interim one, and the practice of denying entry in sacred spaces in Valsad continues.

The trustee of Valsad’s Anjuman refused to comment, saying the matter is subjudice. An Anjuman is a caretaker body for all Parsi properties in an area.

Jehangir R Patel, editor of community magazine Parsiana, said that a resolution was passed by Valsad’s Anjuman, in the early 2000s which restricted the entry of women inside fire temples if they married outside the Zoroastrian community.

“It is only in Valsad that women who have married non-Zoroastrians are denied entry,” said Patel.

“In Mumbai or Delhi, there are no restrictions on entry of women inside the fire temple just because they have married outside the community. During our case, Anjumans of Vapi and Parbhi gave an affidavit stating that they would allow women to enter fire temples,” Gupta added.

Ramiyar Karanjia, principal, Dadar Athornan Institute, the oldest Zoroastrian seminary, recalled a 100-year-old case in which a prominent industrialist married to a French woman, performed her Navjote ceremony — initiation to Zoroastrian religion — so that she could participate in ceremonies.

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