Observing that the right to lead a dignified life extended to death too, the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday allowed families of Covid-19 victims to perform the last rites after taking precautions against the infection.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice T B Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee was hearing a writ petition on the alleged poor handling of Covid victims’ bodies by the administration.
As of now, the last rites of Covid-19 victims are being performed by municipal bodies. Since June, the state government has allowed families to see the body and pay their last respects.
The court ruled that if post mortem was not required, the body should be handed over to the family in a secured body bag. Those handling the mortal remains needed to take necessary precautions such as wearing gloves, masks and PPE suits, if available, said the court.
“We are of the view that the right to live a dignified life extends up to the point of death, including the dignified procedure of death. We are inclined to interpret the phrase ‘dignified procedure of death’ in an expansive manner so as to include dignified disposal of the human remains of the deceased. We unhesitatingly hold that the mortal remains of a deceased person must be treated with care, respect and dignity and have to be disposed of by burial or burning, according to the religion, in so far as the same is ascertainable, that the deceased person practised. It makes no difference if the deceased person was infected with Covid-19. Of course, all requisite safety and precautionary measures must be taken by the persons who carry out the funeral,” read a portion of the 20-page judgment.
“As regards the second issue, i.e., the relatives and friends of Covid-19 victims are not being permitted to have a last look at or carry out the last rites of the deceased; and that, the same should be permitted, the government notification dated June 6 already provides opportunity for the family members of the deceased to see the mortal remains and pay their last respects. In our considered view, the family members should be permitted to perform the last rites of a deceased notwithstanding that the deceased was infected with Covid-19. We proceed to delineate a specific reasoning in that regard,” read the order.
“The traditional belief in our country is that unless the last rites are performed before the burial/ cremation, the soul of the deceased shall not rest in peace. This belief is deep rooted in our country. It also has an emotional and sentimental aspect. Hence, we firmly believe that the family members of a deceased who was infected with Covid-19 should not be deprived of the right to perform the last rites of the deceased, subject to them taking all necessary precautionary measures,” it added.
The court also said the hearse would have to be decontaminated before the body was being taken to the crematorium or burial ground. It asked the state to ensure the staff of the crematorium or burial ground were sensitised.
The High Court ordered the authorities to keep the face end of the body bag unzipped so that the family could see it one last time. Rituals such as reading holy scriptures, offering holy water or grains, and other such rituals that do not require contact with the body would be allowed, it said.
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