Human Rights

Legal perspective on govt's failure to handle Covid19, desecration of dead bodies

After having failed to provide them oxygen, cremation and burial of the dead is the least a state must ensure

Covid-19 has disrupted normal life in all facets, stagnating the worldly environment and situations around it. Everything that had acquired significance in life and in the corridors of power, politics and authority has apparently lost its value, setting out new priorities for survival.

When any country’s competence and stability is challenged by whatsoever factor, it must, and more importantly its leaders and otherwise institutions, act with vision and take timely actions ensuring public order and safety of its subjects. However, the leadership seems to have utterly failed in India, the helplessness is very clear and visible in the ongoing surge in the infections and deaths in the country. This doesn’t stop here; there is out and out scarcity of basic health care facilities which has been termed as genocidal act on the part of the government, inviting fierce criticism from judiciary.

“We are at pain in observing that the death of Covid-19 patients just or non-supplying of oxygen to the hospitals is a criminal Act and not less than a genocide by those who have been entrusted the task to ensure continuous procurement and supply chain of the liquid medical oxygen” Justice Ajit Kumar and Justice Siddhartha Varma.

The inappropriate behavior of government, despite repeated warnings, promoting electoral process and encouraging religious gatherings, like Kumbh Mela, which became a super spreaders leading to the current wave. Political gatherings have been used as a political tool to amass votes, signifying criminal negligence to the safety and health of the common people.

India’s Covid-19 second wave is leaving people dead mostly gasping for oxygen. After failing to provide them oxygen, state could at least have ensured their respectful cremation and burial but it failed in this duty too.

This led India to witness a new scene: unattended and undercount piles of Covid-19 bodies scattered on ground and floating in rivers amounting to desecration of dead bodies, and clearly exposing the failure of the system, exposing the dead conscience of morally and ethically corrupt people and leadership.

The Indian Constitution provides that a citizen has a right to live dignified life and this dignity extends till burial. Human life and dignity must be protected from cradle to grave, leave alone the responsibilities and constitutional obligations on the State to ensure that the rights of dead are protected and promoted. Failure amounts to violation of basic tenets of the Constitution.

The duty of burial or cremation in ordinary circumstances lies on the spouse or relatives of the dead but, in a pandemic situation, the disposition of the dead becomes an issue of public interest, including public health, safety and welfare putting all onuses on the State to discharge its responsibilities.

The state has, however, miserably failed to adhere to the constitutional provisions, as Article 21 which casts a duty on State to ensure protection to the dead. The Apex Court in Parmanand Katara, Advocate vs. Union of India & anr.(1995)3 SCC 248 held that “the Right to dignity and fair treatment under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is not available only to a living man but also to his body after his death.” In yet another case, viz., Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan vs. Union of India, the Apex Court held that “the people have a right to decent burial, according to the religious faith to which the person belonged before death.”

In Ramji Singh and Mujeeb Bhai vs. State of U.P. & ors, the Allahabad high court contended that “a person’s right to life includes the right of the dead body to be treated with the same respect that he would have deserved if he were alive. It is imperative for the state to treat the corpse with dignity, and must only resort to postmortem if it is a necessity”. United Nations Commission on Human Rights in its 2005 resolution stressed upon the dignified handling of human remains.

People elect a government, choose a leader and repose trust in them to rescue them at tough testing times. Yet while the whole country is in grim and medical emergency the government is playing politics of interest and doing blame game rather rescuing and attending to the miseries of the citizens. The current government has focused more on its political agenda , and same has been severely criticized by the Madras High Court which pulled up the Election Commission for allowing political rallies during the pandemic. It told the EC, “Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid-19.” The court further observed that the Election Commission officials should be booked for murder.

The recent court rulings and orders remind us about the responsibilities and liabilities of state governments further the failure of the central government to fulfill its duties. The current regime has violated basic human rights of the living humans as well as those of the dead. Living get no oxygen to breathe while the dead don’t get final rituals in life’s last journey .

The general rule is that the Government assumes greater responsibilities in abnormal times; but countrymen have filed missing reports against the leaders for their absence and non-accountability. Dissent, if any, against the callous approach of the government has been criminalized.

Democracy has to exist in all its spheres and failure to adhere to basic constitutional doctrines and above all moral and political obligations of the government gives an antagonistic image of the otherwise largest democracy in the world. One fails to understand if we still have a moral ground to claim the tag of largest democracy in world?

— The authors are law graduates from Department of law, University of Kashmir and can be reached at basitfarooq418^ and aabiddar299^