The Madras High Court has said that the government has a duty to ensure that members of all communities are given access to burial/cremation facilities. The Court said that the right to life includes the right to a decent burial or cremation.
What are the rights of the dead in India?
1.The right to dignity
The fundamental right to life under Article 21 of our Constitution includes the right to live with dignity. The Supreme Court has said that the right to dignity is available not only to a living person, but also to the person’s body after death. The Court has upheld the fundamental right to die with dignity.
Further, the Calcutta High Court has said that the right to dignity and fair treatment under Article 21 is not only available to a living person, but also to the person’s mortal remains after their demise. A human body should be disposed of, whether by cremation or burial, with due respect.
- The right to religion
The Supreme Court even affirmed the right of homeless deceased people to have decent burials as per religious belief, and the responsibility of the government to ensure the same. Further, the Allahabad High Court stated that a dead body should be treated with respect keeping in mind a person’s tradition, culture and religion.
In 2020, the Calcutta High Court stated that traditions and cultural aspects are essential to the last rites of a person’s dead body. It traced the right to a decent funeral to Article 25 of our Constitution which provides for freedom of religion as a fundamental right.
- Defamation of a dead person
If you make a claim or allegation that would harm a dead person’s reputation, with the intention of hurting the feelings of their family members, the court can punish you for criminal defamation. The punishment for defamation is jail time for up to two years and/or a fine.
- Trespassing on burial places
You can be punished for deliberately trespassing in any place set apart for the performance of funeral rites or for the remains of the dead, if you do so with the intention of insulting a person or religion. You can also be punished for extending any indignity to a human corpse, or causing disturbance to people assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies. The punishment is jail time for up to one year and/or a fine.
- The right to access a dead body
A hospital or medical professional cannot hold the body of a deceased patient for any reason including:
- Non-payment/delay in payment of charges; or
- Dispute regarding any hospital charges.
Under the law, this is a crime of wrongful confinement. The punishment for wrongfully confining someone is jail time of up to one year and/or a fine of up to ₹ 1000. If the confinement extends to three days or ten days, the punishment is jail time for up to two years or three years respectively.