Central Govt. Rejects Parsi Dokhmenashini Plea For Covid Victims

On 17th January, 2022, the Government of India directed the Supreme Court to not change the cremation / burial protocols for the bodies of those who died of COVID-19, in order to accommodate Dokhmenashini or the traditional funeral rites of the Parsi community, prohibits the burial or cremation of the dead.

The government pointed out that these rites involve exposing the body, which could still contain active traces of the coronavirus, to professional pall bearers and the virus could spread. It further added that the corpses of Covid-infected persons would also be exposed to the environment and animals if not buried or cremated.

The government was responding to a plea made by the Surat Parsi Panchayat Board (SPP), requesting permission for the Parsi community to perform Dokhmenashini for those who had passed away due to the Covid infection. SPP had moved the Supreme Court, after their plea was rejected by the Gujarat High Court.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna had sought the government’s response. Renowned Senior Advocate – Fali S. Nariman, assisted by Advocate Zerick Dastur and Karanjawala and Co., had appeared on behalf of the Surat Parsi Panchayat, in the Supreme Court. Fali Nariman had submitted a protocol that is followed to which the state filed an affidavit saying they opposed it. During an earlier hearing, Fali Nariman told the top court, “(Among) Parsis there are Nasheshalars – professional corpse-bearers – but the guidelines do not mention any other mode of disposal of dead bodies other than cremation and burial. Article 21 (Right to Life) is not just for living people but also for post-death…”

On 10th January, 2022, the Supreme Court had sought the assistance of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in the matter, after senior advocate Fali S. Nariman had proposed guidelines to meet the concerns of the Union government over public health and safety, while preserving the sanctity of the Zoroastrian faith practiced by the Parsis. Nariman argued that the protocol issued by the Centre did not take into account the concerns of the Parsi community in regard to the “modalities ordained for funeral rites”.

During the hearing on the 17th of January, Nariman told the bench that the petition was not adversarial, adding that the suggestion given by the petitioner mentioned the rules of the Parsi community and the Centre could take a call in view of the same, to permit proper last rites to be conducted. The bench, led by Justice D Y Chandrachud, recommended an informal meet with the health officials and stakeholders to find a reasonable outcome to this, as the matter is highly sensitive to the Parsi community. He also suggested the Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta to take into account the protocol submitted by Fali Nariman and then make necessary changes to it. He advised Mehta — who appeared for the Centre — to convene a meeting with the petitioner to thrash out a suitable protocol that would allow the Parsis to practise their faith while performing last rites of bodies of the Covid dead. The bench has scheduled the next hearing on the matter for 31st January, 2022.

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