“Life does not come from a void, and death does not mean disappearing into nothing”. Be it any religion as we die, we as a human leaves our body after death. Hinduism as a religion is vast and so are its rituals and customs according to Hindu dharma Antim Sanskar or Antyesti (the last sacrifice) is referred to as the funeral rites of a person. We human beings squander our whole life to earn respect but unfortunately, in today’s time, the dead bodies are denied justice.
In the time of Covid-19, immersion of ashes that is “Asti Visarjan” is misunderstood as ‘bodies’ now. For example, India Today has reported that a lot of ‘bodies’ are being offered to river Ganga and are stuck by rocks and floating around every bend.
After this intensified situation the NHRC came into the picture and took the necessary steps to prevent this situation.
ARTICLE 21: RIGHT TO LIFE EXTENDS TO DECENT BURIAL
Article 21 provides the right from birth till death which means if a person has the right to life, he/she also have the right to a decent burial. In the case of Anandhi Simon v. the state of Tamil Nadu, it was held by Madras high court that the fundamental right to life guaranteed under the constitution includes the right to decent burial or cremation. The neurosurgeon’s body was not allowed to be buried in a cemetery at Kilpauk, Tamil Nadu. A person who practised a noble profession as a doctor, and breathed his last has been denied the right to have a decent burial in a cemetery reserved for that purpose.
CASES: SCOPE OF ARTICLE 21
The first case was P. Rathinam v. The Union of India in which the supreme court held that the right to life implies a meaningful life with human dignity, not just animal life. This right to dignity also applies to the dead person.
Not only the “right to a decent burial”, but “as per the religious rules” is also a fundamental right and the same can be seen in the Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan v. Union of India in which it was held that the dead person’s dignity and honour have to be preserved and to extend appropriate cremation.
Vikash Chandra Baba v. The Union of India & Ors. in this case it was held that every hospital and also the officials have the responsibility to do a decent burial when that person is unidentifiable that is he/she has no relatives /friends etc.
In the landmark judgement of Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of Indiait was held by the Supreme Court that “the right to life of a person”, that expression ‘person’ also includes a dead person. Right to life with human dignity also means that that person has the right to get a decent burial and his dead body should be treated with respect.
In Pradeep Gandhy v. the State of Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court permitted to bury of the dead body of the contaminated victims of Covid-19 and found no reasons to deny the right to a decent burial.
GUIDELINES OF CENTRE ON CREMATION GROUNDS
- Due to the social stigma associated with Covid-19, the Centre has issued an advisory to the citizens, people found guilty under the section could be punished with imprisonment or fine or both
- The union of the ministry of health and family welfare proposed guidelines concerning manage the dead bodies of these who died due to Covid-19 and also mentioned that guidelines should have adhered to strictly.
- Further, the guidelines include the body to be secured be decontaminated. Also, surfaces should be cleaned with sodium hypochlorite solution.
- The staff was strictly informed that on the crematorium/burial ground they should be sensitized that Covid-19 does not pose an additional risk
After reading the guidelines one can conclude that the guidelines were framed to clear the myth and false information during Covid-19 also one of the best parts about the guidelines was that they protected the fundamental right to religion as bestowed on them as per Article 25 of the Indian constitution. These guidelines promoted proper precautions at the burial ground by the staff so that the dead body could be cremated with dignity.
THE DEATH OF HUMANITY DURING COVID-19?
Talking about the novel coronavirus pandemic has brought up the best and worst in people. The majority is demonstrating the best humanity with their generosity of spirit, compassion and kindness which reduced the illness and relieve the suffering brought by the COVID-19. Mentioning the fact that people who are denied a decent burial are lagging their right to accomplish religious rituals. This shows that the bodies which were not cremated with dignity by the concerned authority have given a glimpse of the death of humanity.
In the hardest times of Covid-19, countless people around the world were protecting the elderly and others from getting infected with Covid-19 by accepting safe behaviours people kept motivated to each other by simple acts of grace such as delivering groceries. Communicating from a distance etc. many of the NGO’s worked for providing necessities to the needy like food.
Perhaps the best humanity was demonstrated by frontline healthcare workers who put countless efforts to save lives across the world providing full-time service to the nation they not only saved lives but won our hearts.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the best let us not forget the worst focusing on the fact that doctors are the real heroes who are at the bleeding edge of the pandemic, were beaten up by the local public. During Covid-19 cases of animal cruelty has been addressed. It is said that “an empty mind is devil’s workshop” due to lockdown many unengaged persons committed crimes leading to harm innocent animals. The situation during Covid-19 times was not steady some felt for others but some failed to understand others.
The right to burial is guaranteed under Article 21. We owe a duty towards the dead body being buried with due respect and duty of the person infected with Covid-19. WHO and the ministry of health has overpowered the myths about the cremation process and has ensured complete protection on the cremation grounds. Though the guidelines are set to still there is a strong need for enactment of laws and facilities which will ensure proper management of burial or crematoria places.
Author’s Name: Muskan Pandey (Prestige Institute of Management and Research, Department of Law)
 Ashutosh Mishra, River of sorrow: The mystery of bodies floating in Ganga | India Today Ground Report, India Today (June 25, 2021, 10:00 PM), https://www.indiatoday.in/coronavirus-outbreak/story/river-of-sorrow-the-mystery-of-bodies-floating-on-the-ganges-india-today-ground-report-1802742-2021-05-14.
 NHRC issues notices to the Centre and Uttar Pradesh and Bihar Governments over the complaint about several dead bodies found floating in the Ganga River, National Human Rights Commission, https://nhrc.nic.in/media/press-release/nhrc-issues-notices-centre-and-uttar-pradesh-and-bihar-governments-over (last visited June 25, 2021).
 India Const. art. 21.
 Mohamed Imranullah S., Right to Decent Burial is a part of fundamental right to life, Says HC, The Hindu (June 21, 2021), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/right-to-decent-burial-is-part-of-fundamental-right-to-life-says-hc/article31392061.ece.
 Anandhi Simon v. The State of Tamil Nadu, (2021) 3 MLJ 479.
 P. Rathinam v. Union of India, 1994 SCC (3) 394.
 Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan v. Union of India, AIR 2002 SC 554.
 Vikash Chandra Baba v. The Union of India & Ors., 2008 (2) PLJR 127.
 Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India, 1989 SCR (3) 997.
 Pradeep Gandhy v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC Online Bom. 662.
 India Const. art. 25.