The Gujarat High Court has issued a notice to the Central and state governments as well as local authorities in Surat over a Parsi Panchayat body’s plea seeking its direction to permit them to perform the last rites of members of the community who died of COVID-19, as per the Zoroastrian tradition.
The court of Justice Nirzar Desai on Friday issued a notice to the respondents, returnable on May 27.
In its plea, the Surat Parsi Panchayat Board, along with its trustee Homi Doodhwala, sought to protect the fundamental right to perform the last rites of members of the community who died of COVID-19, as per the tradition of Dokhamanshini.
In the Dokhamanshini tradition, the body is kept at a height in a structure referred to as a well or tower of silence, to be eaten by vultures, and the remains are left to decompose under the sun, it was stated.
In the absence of specific guidelines for the disposal of bodies of Parsis who succumbed to coronavirus, the authorities have compelled relatives of deceased patients to opt for cremation, the plea stated.
The petition, moved by lawyer Asim Pandya, said the community has been compelled by the authorities to opt for cremation or burial of the deceased members ”as against their religious practice and sentiments”. ”Since the guidelines do not recognise other methods of disposing bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients, respondents (state, Surat Municipal Corporation and Surat collector) do not allow the Parsi community to follow their religious and customary mandate for last rites,” it said.
No guideline prohibits such religious customary practices, and it is the interpretation of the local authorities that is causing problems, resulting in violation of the fundamental rights of Parsis, the plea stated.