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Fifty-five-year-old Dr Simon Hercules had devoted his life to treating patients, but when he died on 19.04.2020, after testing positive for COVID-19, the society this neurosurgeon served for decades failed him big time. It is so sad to tell he was denied a decent burial at two different cemeteries while his colleagues and family members were attacked with stones.

A 75-year-old woman who died of coronavirus on Thursday, (23.4.2020) forcing the authorities and the police to cremate the body outside the city amid tight police security despite opposition from the residents in the early hours of Friday, 24 April 2020.

COVID – 19 is not sweet consolation or solacing succour but a bitter and harsh pill to swallow and hard reality to gulp. It attacks the people without regard to the age, status, caste or creed, religion, education, party, position and power. It is not the mistake, miscalculation or misconception of the individual who is affected by it. Today it is not the right time to evaluate or blame anybody but to put the hands and resources together with make the scientists, medical professionals, ASHA workers and police department to perform their task and duty without any hitch or hindrance. We need to cooperate with the rules and regulations of the Government of India and the State especially listen ardently and actively to the local administration.

Aspiration or Desire of a person: Every child who was born in this galaxy expects a polite, proper, and prudent burial or cremation in whatever the circumstance one finds oneself. It is the bounden duty of the family members to fulfil the heart’s desire to give a decent burial /cremation, especially in this agony, anguish, sorrow-struck shift.

COVID-19: guidelines on dead body management by the Government of India:

  • At the crematorium/ Burial Ground staff should be sensitized that COVID- 19 does not pose additional risk.
  • The staff will practice standard precautions of hand hygiene, use of masks and gloves.
  • Viewing of the dead body by unzipping the face end of the body bag (by the staff using standard precautions) may be allowed, for the relatives to see the body for one last time.
  • Religious rituals such as reading from religious scripts, sprinkling holy water and any other last rites that do not require touching of the body can be allowed. Bathing, kissing, hugging, etc. of the dead body should not be permitted.
  • The funeral/burial staff and family members should perform hand hygiene after cremation/ burial.
  • The ash does not pose any risk and can be collected to perform the last rites.
  • The large gathering at the crematorium/ burial ground should be avoided as a social distancing measure as it is possible that close family contacts may be symptomatic and/or shedding the virus. (Pages 6-7)

Constitution of India speaks of dignity and fair burial/cremation: Right to life, which is the cornerstone and fundamental right. This includes the expansion of this right to the dead people i.e. protecting the body of the dead and treating it with dignity, which it was accustomed to before the death. The Supreme Court through various cases has held that the right to dignity and fair treatment under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is not only available to a living man but also to her/his body after her/his death and the word and expression “person” in Article 21.

Sentiments of the family members of the deceased or departed person: what are the sentiments of the family members carrying a dead body of their beloved for the decent cremation or burial going from pillar to post? Did anybody give serious thought or note to it while objecting for the cremation or burial of the body? If she/he may be a member of my own family, what are my feelings? I am sure these feelings could not be understood or presumed by the people who object to giving a decent burial or cremation. This is the time to think and reflect the human values, vibrations and collaboration and not to show one’s might, right, prestige and priority.

What is the understanding of the people: Today, people are anxious, scared, startled, and they have minimal knowledge about the infection of COVID- 19. Giving respect, reverence and tribute to the dead body must be the first and foremost Human Dharma. Administration cannot shift the dead body from place to place for the last rite and ritual to perform, if so, it shows the absurdity or apathy of the people or on a larger scale the mentality or mindset of the society.

Conclusion: Today he or she, tomorrow I or somebody else has to leave the world maybe by saying adieu or without saying it. This dead body for several reasons has to be appreciated, honoured and respected. What a shame to hear the administration is looking for a place to cremate/burial? We are known or publicly acknowledged or proclaimed for decency, dignity and decorum, if so where do we bury, cover or hide our astute, intelligent wisdom when it is the need of the hour? Finally, the question still remains in my mind, is it cruelty to die with a malady?

   Fr Joachim D’Souza, Capuchin

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  1. Dear Fr Joachim, you have rightly brought out the reality of life. When we become inhuman then we lose the basic values of life. The sad reality of life is being ungrateful to the noble, selfless, committed service of a person. Human persons are to be treated as human persons whether they are dead or alive. Fr Joachim, congratulations for this thought provoking and enlightening article. Thanks a lot for bringing out the reality of life.

  2. If it is true and confirmed that the dead body will not in any way transmit the Covid 19 virus, it would make sense that the hospitals should take the body for their use, for e.g experiments, for students to study anatomy etc. It shall be a win win situations for all. Usually hospitals welcome the decision of the relatives to donate the body of a dead person. Just a thought.

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