Presently, the world is witnessing the rapid spread of COVID 19. This situation requires plenty of patience to deal with the epidemic situation intelligently. As the number of patients increase, people enter into world of panic which leads them to forget about their values and ethics.
As Shakespeare pointed out in his work “hamlet” , “All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity. Death is natural phenomenon so the basic decent treatment is expected to be given to the dead”.
When put into perspective in the present times, it is not unfair to say that people dying from COVID 19 are not exactly treated well. Not only people disrespect the dead body by denying the burial or cremation but they also attack the one who is burying the same. Such acts hold no place even in this outbreak. Such Acts are against morality too because even the demised person has a right to decent burial. Considering such incidents which take place on daily basis in the pandemic situation, in this pandemic situation, the Madras HC recognized the Right to a Dignified Burial as a part of Right to Life and shortly after, the Centre issued guidelines relating to the treatment of bodies infected with Covid-19. The Author, by means of this Article tries to look into the various legal aspects involved herein.
RIGHT TO DECENT BURIAL AS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT: JUDICIAL DEVELOPMENTS
Under the constitution of India, Fundamental rights are those rights which are guaranteed by the constitution itself to the citizens. Fundamental Rights involve within themselves various rights, one of the rights is right to life and personal liberty which takes care of all the basics essential to live a life with dignity. This right is not limited to only one aspect, infact it includes plenty of rights within one Article. The right to have dignified life is not restricted to “living” persons only; it extends to include the right of dead person which has been recognized by various judicial pronouncements.
In Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India & Anr., the Supreme Court held that the right to dignity and fair treatment continues in respect of the dead body of the condemned man. In Vareed Porinchukutty v. State of Kerala and Ors, Court upheld that disposal of bodies forms a part of religious practice and it was observed that , t “The mode of disposing a body is also a matter of religion and intrinsic to one’s religious beliefs. By this observation, court allowed the community to dispose the body according to their already set and established practice such as Hindus disposal of the dead is affected by cremation but among Muslims, Jews and Christians it is done by burial. Such practices of burying dead bodies and others are regarded as their fundamental right regarding practice of religion.”
It has been recognized by the court that the mode of disposing the body shall be done in accordance with the religious rites and ceremonies. But, court has not restricted itself with the modes but also recognized the Right to decent burial. In 2007, Madras High court in S.Sethu Raja v. The Chief Secretary held that, “The right to life includes the right to live a life with dignity which is extended to a person who is dead in accordance with the tradition and culture the right to decent burial or cremation to the dead body of a person, is regarded as a part of the right to live with dignity”.