In a landmark judgment, by the AP High Court, the court said that the right to life, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, also includes the right to dignity. This right to dignity was not confined only to the living but also applicable to the dead. Stating this, the court observed that it is very unfortunate that, even in the 75th year of Independence, a few sections of the society were still deprived of basic facilities such as burial grounds and crematoriums.
The High Court’s observation was made via a judgment in a challenge petition filed against the allotment of 0.24 acres of land for a burial ground to the Scheduled Castes of Pedakakani village in Guntur District.
Justice Battu Devanand quashed the petition and observed that it was the duty of the State, and local government, to ensure the right to life of all citizens irrespective of their caste, creed, gender, region, and religion. Observing so, he elaborated that the right to life also included the right to dignity even after death.
The aforementioned judgment by the AP High Court comes at a time when the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued an advisory to the Union Government and all the State and Union Territories. On 14 May 2021, the Commission said that it was the onus, and the ‘duty of the State, to protect the rights of the deceased and crime over the dead body and prepare an SOP in consultation with all stakeholders so that the dignity of the dead is maintained’. They had kept in view the disturbing number of deaths, and reports in media regarding the mismanagement/mishandling, of COVID-19 affected victims,
Since the NHRC advisory, various State High Courts have acted accordingly. On 22 May 2022, the Bombay High Court said that the right to decent burial is recognized as a facet of the right to life and even in such a pandemic situation, the right cannot be taken away from an individual. Stating so, the HC bestowed upon the Mumbai Civic Body the power to designate any cemetery to dispose of bodies of Covid-19 patients.
In recent months, Gnanapuram Burial Ground in Visakhapatnam has witnessed a lot of burials and cremations and in many of the cases, the relatives of the deceased have sadly refused to take the remains. Due to the Covid-19 situation, it has been mandated that only the burial ground staff can perform the last rites for the dead after wearing protective gear.