Govt bats to retain Parsi jury system to protect customs

NEW DELHI: After enacting a law to make triple talaq a punishable offence, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that jury system to adjudicate matrimonial disputes, including divorce and child custody, through a jury system needed to be retained for the Parsi community.

In response to a Parsi woman’s petition challenging several provisions of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, the Centre opposed the petitioner’s claim for parity in the legal system between Hindus and Parsis in matters relating to matrimonial disputes, including divorce.

Petitioner Naomi Sam Irani, through advocate Neela Gokhale, had said the 1936 Act was exasperatingly cumbersome, involving a system akin to jury decision and granted no access to mediation and settlement available to Hindu women under the family court system.

The Centre’s affidavit said the 1936 Act was a pre-constitutional legislation and was considered to conform with the customs of the Parsi community. “When initiatives came from the board of trustees of Parsi Panchayat, Bombay, in 1986 in the form of proposals to amend the Act, the Minorities Commission had considered the said proposals and recommended the same to the government. Amendments were carried out in 1988 to make certain provisions of PMD Act similar to Hindu Marriage Act,” it said.

However, the Centre did not support Irani’s plea for divorce proceedings in family courts as was available to Hindus. “Parsi community is a special community forming part of Indian societal mosaic and it was felt necessary to protect their values, customs, beliefs and practices in the field of personal law. Parsi community, owing to their scarce numbers, also requires to be protected by way of separate mechanism. A special law (like PMD Act) for that small community, with an intelligibly different or unique structure, is permissible in law,” it said.

Irani had moved a Parsi matrimonial suit in 2016 before the Bombay high court seeking dissolution of her 11-year-old marriage, from which the couple has a 10-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter. Section 18 of PMD Act provides for constitution of special courts in Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai where the chief justice of the HC concerned would have jurisdiction to appoint a judge who would be aided by five delegates, who together would decide alimony, maintenance as well as custody and maintenance for children and their education.

Published on Times of India