A relative of a Covid-19 victim mourns during the last rites, at Jhandewalan crematorium in New Delhi.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
A relative of a Covid-19 victim mourns during the last rites, at Jhandewalan crematorium in New Delhi.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)

Uphold dignity and protect rights of the dead: NHRC to govt

Asserting that Article 21 of the Constitution applies not only to the living but also to the dead, the commission said, “It is the duty of the State to protect the rights of the deceased and prevent crime over the dead body”.
UPDATED ON MAY 15, 2021 04:20 AM IST

With disturbing reports of mishandling of Covid victims’ dead bodies coming from across the country, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Friday recommended that the government should enact special legislation to uphold the dignity and protect the rights of the dead.

It recommended that there should not be mass burials/cremations or piling up of bodies during transportation as that was in violation of the right to dignity of the dead. The apex human rights body sent a detailed advisory to the ministry of home affairs, ministry of health and family welfare and states/union territories in this regard. HT reviewed the advisory.

“In order to ensure that dignity is upheld during handling of dead bodies, the cremation/burial ground staff must be sensitised about proper handling of the dead body. Further, they need to be provided the necessary safety equipment and facilities so that they may perform their duty efficiently without any fear or risk,” the advisory said.

Asserting that Article 21 of the Constitution applies not only to the living but also to the dead, the commission said, “It is the duty of the State to protect the rights of the deceased and prevent crime over the dead body”.

Although there is no specific law in India for protecting the rights of the dead, the NHRC pointed out that several international covenants, Supreme Court and high court judgements as well as guidelines issued by various governments from time to time emphasised on maintaining Covid protocols and giving a decent burial/cremation according to the religious customs and practices applicable.

The advisory stated asked authorities to urgently set up temporary crematoriums in view of the large number of Covid deaths and long queues of bodies seen piled at crematoriums.

It said the use of electric crematoriums may be encouraged in order to avoid the health hazards emerging from the emission of smoke from burning pyres in large numbers, and that piling up of bodies during transportation or at any other place must not be allowed to happen.

It said rituals that do not require touching of the dead body may be allowed such as reading from religious scriptures, sprinkling holy water, etc, and in cases where the family members are not in a position to perform the last rites as they may be infected themselves or are not willing being afraid of getting infected, the state/local administration may perform the rites taking into account religious/cultural factors.

As of May 13, there had officially been over 262,000 deaths in the country due to the pandemic.

Not specific to Covid victims’ bodies, the human rights body asked the Centre and states to maintain a district-wise digital dataset of (all) death cases for which it suggested that a dynamic web portal must be created.

It also said that digital confirmation of all – Covid or non-Covid – deaths must be simultaneously updated in all documents such as bank accounts, Aadhaar cards, insurance papers, etc, wherever applicable, to prohibit the scope of any impersonation or illegal monetary gains.

The NHRC said overcharging by ambulances must be regulated and staff handing dead bodies must be paid fairly.

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