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Does the right to live with dignity extend to deceased persons too? Can a law mandate the public to treat a deceased person with respect?
The Corona virus is breaking the records each day and those who are less fortunate have succumbed to deaths. Many images of people cremating the bodies of their dead relatives on footpaths, barren grounds are surfacing the internet which makes one wonder if this is the right way to perform last rites of the dead?
In a classic play ‘Antigone (Sophocles) written in Greece before 441 BC the writer presented a question before the public through his Dramatic play “ Should Polynices, who committed a serious crime that threatened the city, be given burial rituals, or should his body be left unburied for scavenging animals?” Antigone his sister decided to bury her brother inspite of the law expressly forbidding her, she reckoned that “beyond the state law which forebode the burial of Polynices there existed a divine law which was supreme, this was the divine law of Gods which mandated her to lay peacefully those who are dead.”
Even before the adoption of our constitution in 1949,before thousands of years the right to bury with dignity was discussed in Greek play, the classic drama of Antigone exemplifies how the ancient Greeks were ahead of their time to think about honouring a dead person even if he was a criminal.
The constitution of India also recognises right to bury. The Constitution discusses protection of life and personal liberty which is guaranteed under Article 21 this Article has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in many instances. Right to dignity which is guaranteed under this article is not merely restricted to a living human being and is extended to a dead person too.
In the case of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan v. Union of India, the court held that it is the obligation of the State to have a decent burial to the deceased person as per their religious belief.
In Goa However there is no uniform law which would govern the rights of the deceased person guaranteeing him/her a respectful burial as per the personal law. IN the absence of public burial grounds the deceased are burnt and/or buried in their own property.
To understand how the legal rights extend to a person even after his death Team Goa News Hub approached Ex- Union Law minister of India and Deputy Chief minister of Goa Ramakant Khalap who had played a monumental role in preparing a draft Goa Public Crematoria and Burial Places Bill, 2009.
Khalap Said “Last rites of the deceased person are usually performed with solemn
ceremonies. Christians as a rule have burial places in the precincts of the Church. Muslims have their kabrasthan at specified places. Hindus too have
smashanbhoomis. Some public smashanbhoomis and kabrasthan are also
located in some of the major villages and town of Goa.”
“ In Goa Unfortunately some smashanbhoomis are earmarked a per the caste system prevailing in
the villages. In the recent past certain unsavoury happenings have underlined need to have public crematoria and public places. There have been incidents even though few in numbers wherein cremation was prevented because of differences over caste considerations or the deceased was a stranger to that village.” Said Khalap
“Large numbers of nonGoans and foreigners visit Goa for various purposes. In the event of death of any such person the authorities find it difficult to cremate or bury such person. In remote such villages of Goa the Hindus residents usually cremate their dead in their own land for which usually a piece of land is earmarked. This leads to existence of multiple crematoria in a village. Some non‐ Hindus also desire that their dead bodies be cremated. In the absence of public crematoria. it becomes difficult to fulfil such wishes.” Wrote Khalap in the draft bill
There is an urgent need to legally enforce this draft bill which can only be done once legislative assembly and legal department ratifies this draft bill. Right now public burial and crematoria ground exists in Panaji but not in all villages across Goa. The Panchayati Raj Act 1994 speaks about construction of burial and crematoria grounds, but these are not constructed everywhere. The Section 95 (1) of the act says “No new place for the disposal of the dead whether private or public, shall be opened, formed, constructed or used in a Panchayat area unless after an application for the purpose is made and a licence is obtained from the Panchayat.” It appears that legislature lacks the political will to enact this law perhaps because the dead don’t contribute to the MLAs by way of Voting.