Written by Damini Singh of Jaipur National University.
Edited by Shantanu Nemani.
“Death must be so beautiful, to lie in the soft brown earth with grasses waving above one’s head and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, no tomorrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace.”
- Oscar Wilde
This is how beautifully Oscar Wilde described death, but in the present time as the pandemic hits the world, the deceased people are dumped as trash throughout the country. This article further describes this scenario in a detailed way.
Scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states- No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
The right to life is undoubtedly the most fundamental right in our constitution. Justice Iyer has marked Article 21 as “the procedural magna carta protective of life and liberty”. It says that every individual has the right to life and not only to breathe but to live with dignity too, mere animal existence is not indicated by Article 21 but it has a much wider interpretation as held in the case of Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh by the Apex court of india that the term “life” used in this article is meant much more than mere animal existence.
The meaning of the words personal liberty were interpreted in the Supreme Court for the first time in the case of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras In this case the court held that detention under law is valid in all cases. But as the changes in judiciary arose this judgment was overruled in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India in which the court widened the scope of words ‘personal liberty’ to a vast expanse, stating that right to personal liberty incorporates a bundle of rights.
Scientific Approach of the working of SARS-CoV-2 in a dead body
There are studies which show that novel coronavirus can’t be transmitted through a dead body because this virus is more like a pen drive which contains information and memory and is attached to a device(computer or laptop), but have you ever heard a pen drive giving information on a device without any battery? Same is in the case of humans the pen drive is SARS-CoV-2 which takes over the internal system of a living cell and commands accordingly to spread itself more into the body of the host. But when the host dies this virus can’t further function because of lack of living organelles.
Even the study has also shown that novel coronavirus can’t be transmitted through cadavers so why shouldn’t we provide the people their farewell with decency and dignity? Many times the dead bodies are left unattended for hours, even though the scientists suggest that these bodies must be cremated without any delay. Moreover the temperature for cremating the body is near to 1000˚ C which will automatically kill the virus.
Coronavirus and the Right to dignified death( Article 21)
One of the incorporated rights of Article 21 is that every individual is entitled to have a decent funeral according to his/her religious rites. Right to have dignified funeral can’t be taken away in any situation, not even in any pandemic, this was recently stated by Bombay High Court, especially in this time of coronavirus, large number of people are dying but they are also entitled to have a decent burial as he/she would have been it if weren’t COVID-19 period.
Everyone is afraid to cremate the cadavers and instead they prefer dumping them in an inhumane way. Due to increasing cases of inhumane burial of dead bodies a PIL was filed under Article 226 in Calcutta High Court to hand over dead bodies of corona infected people to their family.
In Pt. Paramanand Katara v. Union of India The Supreme Court held that the word person in Article 21 would also include a dead person and that his right to live with human dignity would also extend to his dead body to treat him/her with respect which he would have deserved when he would be alive subject to tradition which he followed.
But during this COVID-19 period as soon as any person dies due to coronavirus the hospital immediately wraps up the body in plastic sheets and then it is taken away by the health department workers. But this is definitely unjust not to allow the bodies to be taken away by their family to bid a proper farewell to the deceased.
The state must take this problem into consideration and more people must be made aware of the right to have a dignified funeral to protect each citizen’s right till the last and ensure a proper funeral to people who have died in this pandemic. The government should take measures and instruct the hospitals and the health care management to properly deliver the body of the deceased to their family or acquaintances to ensure proper execution of Article 21 of our constitution.
• 1963 AIR 1295, 1964 SCR (1) 332\
• 1950 AIR 27, 1950 SCR 88
• 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
• 1989 AIR 2039, 1989 SCR (3) 997
• The constitution of India
Image Courtesy- Live Law