AFTER IT was informed by the Punjab government that there is no statute or law regarding disposal of dead bodies except for the unclaimed bodies, the Punjab and Haryana High Court said Monday that if there was no law on disposal of bodies, customs of the society had to prevail, which say that a dead person’s body has to be cremated.
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The observations, with reference to the Ashutosh Maharaj case, came from a division bench comprising Justices Mahesh Grover and Shekher Dhawan during the resumed hearing of a bunch of appeals against the single judge bench’s judgment dated December 1, 2014, with directions to perform last rites of ‘clinically dead’ Jalandhar-based Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan (DJJS) head Ashutosh Maharaj. However, the court’s verbal observations on Monday cannot be construed as its final verdict since the arguments in the case would further continue on December 13.
On January 29, 2014, DJJS doctors had declared Ashutosh Maharaj “clinically dead,” after which the DJJS management had kept the body in a deep freezer, saying the spiritual head had gone into ‘samadhi’ (deep meditation) and would come out one fine day.
“It has a cascading effect. We cannot shut our eyes. Tomorrow every other person will start keeping bodies and say they are into samadhi,” observed the court.
The court, while replying to the arguments raised by the senior counsel appearing for the Sansthan, said, “When law is not there, there are societal norms. In our country societal norms say cremate the dead body. The question is that what you are propounding, can it be in legal term called libertarian theory?”
The court further added, “But it is a dangerous proposition. There is no stop. If, for example, one wants multiple partners, it is dangerous. There are so many areas where law is not there but customs of society prevail.”
The senior counsel appearing for the sansthan had argued that if law for disposal of dead body is not there, Ashutosh Maharaj’s body is not a danger to the public health and environment. “Doctors are inspecting the body. There is no indignity being inflicted upon the body as it is inside the Sansthan and not put on the road,” the counsel argued. He further raised the question that the single judge had found that Maharaj’s former driver Puran Singh as well as Dalip Kumar Jha, who claims to be Maharaj’s biological son, did not have any locus standi. Therefore, if it was a case of public importance, the judge should have sent the case to the PIL roster, added the counsel.
To this, the court replied, “Even if we find that the single judge did not have the jurisdiction, then also we will have to hear the case since it is of public importance and we can take suo motu notice.” The counsel also argued, “Saints of this order are rarely born and in case it is for a moment assumed that he had died, why can’t the Sansthan preserve the body like that of St. Francis Xavier that has been preserved in Goa’s church since 1925?”