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India had witnessed such a scene many a times, in the past. And, the Coronavirus pandemic has given the Indians another opportunity to experience the same. The inhumane handling of corpses by the Government of eastern Indian Province of West Bengal and other parts of the country has shocked the Indians. Although the Government has claimed that the corpses, piled at a crematorium in Garia region of Kolkata, are not of Covid-19 victims, local Municipal Corporation employees are not ready to get them cremated.

Retired forensic specialist and physician Dr Ajay Gupta recalled that the Railway officials used bamboos to carry the bodies to the crematorium after train accidents in the 1970’s! In fact, the disrespect of corpses has been around for ages in this world… and, India is no exception to it. However, the brutal and inhumane videos of disposal of bodies have prompted the Supreme Court (SC) of India to slam the Provincial Government. The Apex Court has made it clear that relatives would have the right to see of bodies of their near and dear ones for one last time. The Indians have never seen so many unclaimed rotten corpses outside hospitals.

As per Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the State has the primary duty to protect the Right to Live with Human Dignity as a Fundamental Right of each citizen. Although the Constitution has not given any specific provision about human dignity, the Indian Judiciary is of the opinion that the Right to Dignity applies not only to a living person, but also to her/his body after death. While delivering a judgement in the Case of Pt. Parmanand Katara versus Union Of India & Others on August 28, 1989, the SC held that the Right to Dignity and Fair Treatment under Article 21 of the Constitution were not only available to a living man, but also to his body after his death. “Right to a decent burial, commensurate with the dignity of the individual, is recognised as a facet of the Right to Life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. There is, thus, no reason as to why an individual who dies during this period of crisis because of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection would not be entitled to the facilities he or she would have otherwise been entitled to but for the crisis,” said the Bombay High Court a couple of days ago while dismissing a petition filed by four Bandra residents, seeking prohibition on the burial of Covid-19 victims at three inter-connected Muslim cemeteries in the vicinity of their residence. Former Law Minister of India Ashwini Kumar, too, has condemned the concerned authorities for disrespecting the corpses of COVID-19 victims.

The dignity of the corpse has always been a sensitive issue in human civilisation. In Homer’s Iliad, one can find that the Gods cursed a heroic personality, like Achilles, for dragging Hector’s body from his chariot and refused to return the body to the Trojans for performing his last rites (after killing the latter) In Indian epic Mahabharata, it is said that after unlawfully hitting Duryodhana at his thighs and maiming him, Bheema had reportedly kicked the head of the former with his left foot. At that time, Lord Krishna strongly criticised Bheema, saying that the he had no right to disgrace Duryodhana’s royal dignity and their teacher Balarama was about to pounce on Bheema for this act! Unfortunately, the human civilisation has forgotten the humane behaviour.

A senior Police Officer is of the opinion that the Coronavirus pandemic has taken the practice of Untouchability in India (in its literal sense, is the practice of ostracising a minority group by segregating them from the mainstream by imposing social custom or legal mandate) to a new height. As unclaimed corpses tend to trigger a fresh tension in the society, the concerned authorities are trying to cremate them as early as possible, said the officer. The Indians must remember that they should give due respect to the corpses even during the time of pandemic…

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