Supreme Court: Wife’s “DNA Doesn’t Evaporate” Post Marriage Outside Religion

“Marriage does not mean a woman mortgages herself to her husband,” stated the apex court. It is time women's identity in a marriage was recognised.

“Marriage does not mean a woman mortgages herself to her husband,” stated the apex court. It is time women’s identity in a marriage was recognised.

When a woman marries, why is it that Indian society expects her to subsume her identity in the husband’s and marital family’s? She is expected to undergo a change of surname, move into her in laws’ home, adopt their lifestyle and food habits, follow their customs, and often even change her religion. Equally, her natal connections almost seem to disown her. All these things underscore a daughter’s place as ‘paraya dhan’ that most Indian families believe in, undermining a woman’s place in society.

It is the 21st century and yet the system fails to fully equip the nation’s women with the rights and freedoms they fully deserve. When a woman knocked the doors of court to ask for her right to fulfil her filial duty of performing parents’ last rites in her own Parsi tradition, the Bombay High Court had come to the conclusion that a woman’s religion merges with that of her husband following an interfaith marriage, hence she cannot follow or get involved in her own religion’s rituals and traditions.

The statement came as a restraining decision to the appeal of the Parsi woman Goolrokh M Gupta who got married to a non-Parsi in 1991 under the Special Marriage Act and has been barred from entering the Tower of Silence by the Valsad Zoroastrian Trust, thus prohibiting her from participating in Parsi religious activities.

The latest move in the case has come as a relief as Goolrokh appealed to the Supreme Court which disagreed with the Bombay High Court’s verdict on Thursday. A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan also observed that a Parsi man marrying outside his community was not barred from entering the Tower of Silence but a Parsi woman was.

Appreciating the arguments of senior advocate Indira Jaising on behalf of Goolrokh M Gupta, 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 High Court to uphold restraining Goolrokh from performing the last rites of her parents).”

“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,” the bench announced. There is no law which bars a woman from entering the Tower of Silence after marrying outside the community, the Bench also said. Shun the rigidity and understand the importance of love and emotions of a child towards her parents, the Bench further stated.

The Court directed the matter’s next hearing on December 14.

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