Sensitise officials to follow rules for dignified cremation, High Court tells UP

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The Allahabad High Court on Friday ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to sensitise its employees to follow the state’s Standard Operating Procedure for dignified cremation of bodies, Live Law reported.

The court had directed the state government to formulate rules after a Dalit woman was gangraped and killed by four upper-caste men in Hathras on September 14, 2020.

The district authorities had secretly cremated the 19-year-old’s body around 3 am on September 30, without the consent of her family, who alleged they were locked up in their home by the police during the cremation.

“The last time we saw her face was just after the post-mortem was done,” her brother had said then. “They did not even accord us the basic dignity of allowing us to watch her face one last time.”

After this, the High Court had pulled up senior Uttar Pradesh government officials and took suo moto cognisance of the case after it triggered nationwide outrage and protests.

In an order passed on Friday, a bench of Justices Rajan Roy and Jaspreet Singh asked the Uttar Pradesh government to widely publicise the SOP in places such as police stations, hospitals, primary health centers and district headquarters to ensure officials are aware of the rules. The guidelines, though, are yet to be notified.

The order stated:

“The right of dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is not only available to a living person but also to the ‘dead’. Even a dead person has the right of treatment of his body with respect and dignity which he would have deserved had he been alive, subject to his tradition, culture and religion which he professed. These rights are not only for the deceased but, his family members also have a right to perform last rites as per religious traditions. Right to a decent burial has been held to be commensurate with the dignity of the individual and this has been reiterated as a recognised facet of right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

— The Allahabad High Court

The officials involved in the final rites should be counseled to “to achieve the object rather than to defeat it”, the judges said. They added that the entire exercise should be conducted in a solemn manner with due respect to the person’s fundamental rights.

On July 27, the High Court had directed the Uttar Pradesh government to consider providing employment to a family member of the Dalit woman.

The court had also ordered the state government to relocate the family outside of Hathras within the next six months. The judges had noted that it was difficult for the family to lead a normal life in the village after the gangrape.

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