May 22, 2021 2:21:07 am
The Gujarat High Court on Friday issued notice to the central and state government as well as Surat district collector and municipal commissioner on a petition by Surat Parsi Panchayat Board seeking that Parsis be permitted to observe their religious ritual of final rites for those dying due to Covid-19.
The petitioners have sought the court’s intervention to protect their “fundamental rights to perform the last rites of community members in accordance with their religious practices who lost their lives due to Covid-19 in the last more than one year and who may lose their lives due to Covid-19”, and to not compel them to opt for cremation or burial “against their religious practices and sentiments”.
The Central government’s Covid-19 guidelines lays down the protocol with regard to cremation and burial practices. Therefore, the petitioners highlighted that the Gujarat government and local administration of Surat do not recognise other mode of disposal of Covid-19 deceased.
Parsis lay out their deceased in a secluded place known as Dakhmas (the tower of silence), to be eaten by vultures while the remains are exposed to the sun to be decomposed.
The petition has been moved by the Surat Parsi Panchayat Board, a charitable trust, which is the apex body representing the Parsi Zoroastrian community in Surat, through its president Jamshed Dotivala and a trustee member, Dr Homi Doodhwala.
The petitioners have submitted that the Surat Parsi community has lost more than 29 Parsis to Covid-19 during the pandemic and authorities compelled the relatives to opt for cremation despite there being no express ban or prohibition by law on Parsi funeral ritual.
According to data maintained by the community, as of May 15, at least 55 Covid deaths were recorded among Parsis in Gujarat, in the districts of Navsari, Surat and Ahmedabad.
The petitioners, who were represented by senior advocate Asim Pandya and advocate Manan Bhatt, before the court of Justice Nirzar Desai on Friday also stated in their petition that “there is no evidence of coronavirus being spread through dead body”, and submitted that only restricting final rites rituals to either cremation or burial, is “not backed by any scientific research or data which entitles the respondents to deny the fundamental rights of the petitioners”.
Pending final decision on the petition, the petitioners have sought that the respondent government authorities be restrained from creating hurdles for Parsis and their members from performing final rites of members who died due to Covid-19 in accordance with Parsi rituals.
The respondents are expected to reply to the contentions raised by the petitioner by May 27, when the matter is expected to be heard next.
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