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Glare on Parsi marriage law

The Supreme Court on Friday sought the Centre's views on a petition questioning the validity of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, that follows a jury system to decide matrimonial disputes.

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 25.11.17
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday sought the Centre's views on a petition questioning the validity of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, that follows a jury system to decide matrimonial disputes.

The petitioner, Naomni Sam Irani, has complained the procedure is cumbersome and discriminatory vis-à-vis other communities.

Under the Act, members of the Parsi community are appointed as delegates or jury who decide on matrimonial disputes relating to divorce and maintenances of estranged couples. The jury, however, is appointed by the chief justices of the high courts of Calcutta, Mumbai and Chennai.

Each jury has five members whose decisions are binding. Aggrieved persons can, however, appeal against the jury's order before a high court or the Supreme Court.

A bench headed by Justice Kurian Joseph of the Supreme Court asked Irani's counsel to provide a copy of the petition to additional solicitor-general Atmaram Nadkarni for his assistance so that the matter can be examined when it is taken up next week.

The bench had initially expressed reluctance to hear the plea. "This (law) is in existence since 1936. You move the court after so many years and the concept of court here is that it's a court of the people. You should go to Parliament," the bench told the lawyer.

However, the counsel pleaded that the Centre's views be sought, which the court accepted. #Irani is fighting a matrimonial dispute in a special court in Mumbai. She has assailed the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act (PMDA) on the ground that it discriminated between Parsis and non-Parsis and therefore violates Articles 14 (equality before law) and 21 (right to life and liberty).

Irani has contended that the PMDA does not provide mediation proceedings, which are available to Hindus under the Hindu Marriage Act and Christians under the Indian Divorce Act.

According to Irani, the Parsi chief matrimonial court sits only once or twice a year, that too for a short duration, delaying cases and causing mental agony.

She submitted that provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Indian Divorce Act, 1869, have been amended to prevent prolonged agony to estranged couples. However, the Parsis don't have a proper procedure for deciding marital disputes as everything is left to the discretion of the jury.

"The practice of appointing delegates to aid in adjudication of cases arising under the Act, and giving the local Parsis an opportunity of expressing their opinion in a matter which is clearly in the realm of privacy between the parties... continues to find favour in law," the petition said.

"Section 18 and 19 of the PMDA in pursuance of which special courts namely Parsi Chief Matrimonial Courts and the Parsi District Matrimonial Courts have been established, the parties subject to this Act are compelled to subject themselves to the jurisdiction of these spl. courts and are deprived of the advantages of the family courts, which are otherwise available to all other persons (other communities)," the petition added.#