NEW DELHI: Last month, the Supreme Court held the hearing on the Triple Talaq case which has attracted a furore of media attention for almost a year now, and the result of which will be announced in July. Instant Triple Talaaq is a practice under Muslim Personal law that allows for a Muslim man to divorce his wife by solely saying the word Talaaq (divorce) thrice.

Personal laws are used to govern the citizens of India belonging to a variety of religions and faiths. There is Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Parsi Personal law. People who identify as such, fall under the purview of these personal laws. These laws are meant to govern aspects of familial affairs i.e. marriage, divorce, inheritance, succession etc.

The Triple Talaaq issue has triggered a nationwide discussion regarding patriarchal personal laws maintained in the name of religion. The sudden uproar to abolish such a law has been seen as an attack on a minority religious identity, i.e. the Muslim identity. Although this critique against the banning of Triple Talaaq does not provide the grounds for dismissing a claim to equal rights for Muslim women, what remains problematic is the selective condemnation of an oppressive religious practice by the regime.

In a country where child marriage and marital rape continue to be legal, patriarchal traditions are far from being confined to the the Muslim demographic. Another minority community and its gender biased regulations came into light when Goolrukh Mahipal Gupta, a Parsi woman who married outside her community, filed a PIL in March of 2010 with the Gujarat High Court.

The PIL was filed to contest regulations of the Valsad Anjuman (a Parsi assembly) that didn't allow for women married outside the Parsi Zoroastrian community to offer prayers at the Zoroastrian fire temple or agiary. After the Gujarat High Court ruled that a Parsi woman once married to a non-Parsi man loses her religious identity, Goolrukh moved the case to the Supreme Court to overturn this decision in April this year. The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not a woman can retain her individual religious identity even if she marries outside of her religious community.

“I personally believe that what happened to Goolrukh was quite unfair. If she was a part of the Calcutta Anjuman, she would have been allowed to enter the fire temple and the tower of silence.”, says a legal expert from Calcutta. According to this source, Calcutta, Delhi and Baroda are the only anjumans where the trustees allow for women married outside the Parsi Zoroastrian community to enter religious premises such as the agiary or the tower of silence. Anjumans are Parsi Zoroastrian collectives that are headed by a group of trustees in 69 cities across the country.

The affairs of these anjumans are administered by a board of trustees, usually consisting of older and influential men, and hence the regulations around who will be allowed to enter these religious sites is also a part of their jurisdiction. “There is no uniform or centralised law governing whether a woman married outside the community or her children can be allowed inside these sites. This is not under Parsi Personal law, because the women who do marry outside the community come under the jurisdiction of the Special Marriage Act.” adds the legal expert.

The Special Marriage Act was enacted by the Indian Parliament to allow for people who renounce their religion or marry someone from another religion to be regulated beyond personal religious laws. Since the marital legal affairs of women like Goolrukh are not regulated under the Parsi Personal Law, their children’s rejection from the community cannot be easily challenged, for there is no central body to appeal to.

“In the Delhi Anjuman they performed both of my daughter’s navjote. So they are now technically recognised as Zoroastrians and are accepted by at least the Parsi Zoroastrian community in Delhi.”, says Niloufer Patkar, who is also married outside of her community. Navjote is a coming of age ceremony that is officiated by the agiary priests to initiate children into the Zoroastrian religion.

“For a Parsi to be allowed into the fire temple, it is not enough to be a Parsi. One has to be a Parsi following the Zoroastrian religion.” states the legal expert. However, as women who inter-marry are often rejected by the community, their children too are denied the navjote ceremony and are hence not initiated into the Zoroastrian religion even if ethnically they remain to be at least half Parsi.

The same regulations however, do not apply to Parsi men who marry outside the community. The men can retain their religious identity and pass it on to their children as well. “Well, all I can say is that like most Indian communities, the Parsi community is also patriarchal and patrilineal. So, only the men’s side of the family counts as a part of the demographic.” admits the legal expert.

“Of course the population is dwindling, they only count the men and their families!” comments Niloufer matter of factly. With a population of 57,264 according to a census conducted in 2011, the Parsi Zoroastrian community is one of the smallest of its kind in India. The numbers are so shockingly small that the government came up with a scheme called Jiyo Parsi in 2013-14 to aid the population growth of the community. However, even the threat of extinction does not seem to be enough to compel people to make more gender neutral laws. This just shows the extent to which we are ready to go to maintain a gender hierarchy by blatantly ingraining it in our legal framework.