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SC asks SG for help with Parsi community’s request for traditional burial

Supreme Court
Supreme Court

NEW DELHI: On Monday, the Supreme Court requested the assistance of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in resolving the Parsi community‘s grievances over the inability to perform the traditional burial of its members who died of Covid-19.
A bench of justices led by Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna asked Mehta to use his office to speak with the Director General of Health Services about revising the existing guidelines for the burial of Covid victims.
The Surat Parsi Panchayat Board is represented by senior advocate Fali S Nariman, who claims that the Parsi community is the only one in the country with professional pallbearers.

According to him, the existing guidelines do not permit a burial, as is customary in the Parsi community.

The Gujarat government’s counsel stated that they are following the guidelines issued by the Centre in this regard.

According to Nariman, the Centre stated in an affidavit filed in the Gujarat High Court that it will obey the court’s orders.
The bench then asked the solicitor general to intervene on the issue, who was on the screen for another matter.

Mehta stated that he will investigate the matter because it is not a contentious issue, and that he will speak with the relevant authorities.

The matter was then rescheduled for a hearing on January 17.

On December 6, the Supreme Court requested responses from the Centre and the Gujarat government in response to a petition seeking a traditional burial for Parsi community members who died of COVID-19.

The Surat Parsi Panchayat Board filed an appeal on July 23 against a Gujarat High Court order dismissing its plea.

The issue is relevant, according to Nariman, who is representing the board, because a new variant of the virus has emerged.

He had said that among the Parsis, there is a community of corpse bearers, and that when someone dies, only the corpse bearers are allowed to touch the body.

He said that while general guidelines for the cremation and burial of Covid victims have been issued, there is nothing specific to the Parsi community.

The Supreme Court had stated that the issue should be considered, and that there is a precedent in this regard, which dealt with obsequies rights, which are important in some faiths.

The Gujarat High Court heard a petition filed by the Parsi panchayat body on July 23 last year, asking for permission to perform the last rites of community members who died of COVID-19 in accordance with Zoroastrian traditions rather than cremating them.

The petition was dismissed by the high court, which said it lacked merit and cited the Supreme Court’s comments on the Kanwar Yatra in Uttar Pradesh.

The Surat Parsi Panchayat Board sought to protect the fundamental right of community members who died of Covid to have their last rites performed in accordance with Dokhamanshini tradition, rather than cremation, as has been directed by authorities in light of the pandemic.

NEW DELHI: On Monday, the Supreme Court requested the assistance of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in resolving the Parsi community’s grievances over the inability to perform the traditional burial of its members who died of Covid-19.

A bench of justices led by Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna asked Mehta to use his office to speak with the Director General of Health Services about revising the existing guidelines for the burial of Covid victims.

The Surat Parsi Panchayat Board is represented by senior advocate Fali S Nariman, who claims that the Parsi community is the only one in the country with professional pallbearers.

According to him, the existing guidelines do not permit a burial, as is customary in the Parsi community.

The Gujarat government’s counsel stated that they are following the guidelines issued by the Centre in this regard.

According to Nariman, the Centre stated in an affidavit filed in the Gujarat High Court that it will obey the court’s orders.

The bench then asked the solicitor general to intervene on the issue, who was on the screen for another matter.

Mehta stated that he will investigate the matter because it is not a contentious issue, and that he will speak with the relevant authorities.

The matter was then rescheduled for a hearing on January 17.

On December 6, the Supreme Court requested responses from the Centre and the Gujarat government in response to a petition seeking a traditional burial for Parsi community members who died of COVID-19.

The Surat Parsi Panchayat Board filed an appeal on July 23 against a Gujarat High Court order dismissing its plea.

The issue is relevant, according to Nariman, who is representing the board, because a new variant of the virus has emerged.

He had said that among the Parsis, there is a community of corpse bearers, and that when someone dies, only the corpse bearers are allowed to touch the body.

He said that while general guidelines for the cremation and burial of Covid victims have been issued, there is nothing specific to the Parsi community.

The Supreme Court had stated that the issue should be considered, and that there is a precedent in this regard, which dealt with obsequies rights, which are important in some faiths.

The Gujarat High Court heard a petition filed by the Parsi panchayat body on July 23 last year, asking for permission to perform the last rites of community members who died of COVID-19 in accordance with Zoroastrian traditions rather than cremating them.

The petition was dismissed by the high court, which said it lacked merit and cited the Supreme Court’s comments on the Kanwar Yatra in Uttar Pradesh.

The Surat Parsi Panchayat Board sought to protect the fundamental right of community members who died of Covid to have their last rites performed in accordance with Dokhamanshini tradition, rather than cremation, as has been directed by authorities in light of the pandemic.

The body is kept at a height on a structure known as a well or the tower of silence in the Dokhamanshini tradition, to be eaten by vultures, and the remains are left to decompose under the sun, it was stated.

The guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare regarding the disposal of dead bodies by cremation or burial are in the larger public interest and cannot be said to be violative of the Parsis’ fundamental rights, the high court had said, given the current COVID-19 situation.

It had rejected the plea, stating that the petition lacked merit.

The Parsi community was forced by the authorities to choose between cremation and burial for their deceased members, according to the petition, “against its religious practise and sentiments.”

Authorities do not allow the Parsi community to follow their religious and customary mandate for last rites because the guidelines do not recognise other methods of disposing bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients, it had stated.

According to the plea, no guideline prohibits such religious customary practises, and it is the interpretation of local authorities that is causing problems, resulting in a violation of Parsis’ fundamental rights.

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