In India, 2,42,398 people have lost their lives to COVID-19. The alarming figure brings to light the need to maintain fair treatment of the dead and follow a safety-driven rule of conduct at the same time. Amidst the recent reports surrounding the mishandling of dead bodies, mismanaged reporting of the deaths and the lack of COVID-19 safety protocols, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued an advisory to the Centre and the States for the protection of rights of the deceased and to uphold their dignity.
The NHRC is mandated by the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, in order to secure and promote human rights of the people of the country. The advisory has listed recommendations to all the concerned authorities of the Union and State governments as well as Union Territories. The Commission has also requested to put into action the said recommendations forthwith and report back within 4 weeks.
The NHRC has laid down certain basic principles to ensure that the dignity of the deceased remains assured. They are-
- There should be no discrimination in the post-death treatment of the body, no physical exploitation, no defamation and no breach of privacy.
- It also lists that there should be a decent and timely burial, delivery of timely justice in case of crime and honouring of the Will of the dead, if left any.
More specifically, the advisory lays out the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders to help secure the rights of those who have passed. Addressed not just to the Centre, State and Local governments, these are recommendations directed towards citizens, families, hospital administrations, medical practitioners, forensic departments, mortuary services, police, prison, media and civil society organizations and NGO’s.
Mentioned below are some of the important recommendations issued by the NHRC.
- The need to enact specific legislation to help protect and secure the rights of the dead.
- To avoid delays in the cremations, temporary arrangements for crematoriums should be made available urgently.
- It should be known that performing rituals and last rites can be done as long as they do not involve touching the body.
- The State or Local Administration should take care of the last rituals of the dead body while maintaining cultural and religious factors in case of family members/relatives are absent, are at risk of infection or the repatriation of the body is not possible.
- Given the huge number of deaths, the use of electric crematoriums is recommended to avoid the health hazards that come from the smoke emission of burning pyres.
- Mass burial and cremations are not permitted as it violates the right to dignity of the dead.
- The dead bodies should be accurately identified employing different criteria of identification and proper information handling of the dead and missing persons in disasters should be taken care of by the State Administration.
- To ensure the dignity of the dead is maintained, all employees and staff working at the crematoriums should be sensitized and made aware of the rightful handling and treatment of the dead body. They should be given all required safety equipment to effectively carry out the duty sans fear and risk.
- The staff handling at the crematoriums should be paid fairly for their long working hours and their vaccination should be on a priority basis to avoid any health risks.
- The prices for ambulance/transportation services for the dead bodies should be regulated and not exploited. The hike and overcharging of the services should be avoided.