Allahabad High Court: A Division Bench of Rajan Roy and Jaspreet Singh, JJ., while taking suo motu cognizance of an extremely sensitive and important matter reminded itself of Mahatma Gandhi’s words and stated that,
This is a time to strengthen our resolve to live up to the ideas which “Bapu” stood for, but, unfortunately, ground realities are very different from the high values propagated and practiced by the Father of our Nation.
Bench stated that the matter touches upon the basic human/fundamental rights of the citizens of the country and residents based on certain newspaper items and programs shown in the media, according to which a young 19-year-old girl in Hathras was subjected to gang rape.
The perpetrators had broken her bones and mutilated her tongue.
The victim fought for her life for almost 2 weeks but ultimately she succumbed to death on 29-09-2020.
Court stated that the incidents which happened after the victim’s death leading up to her cremation have shocked their conscience.
In view of the above, the bench has taken suo mou cognizance of the matter.
Cremation performed forcibly and without consent of family members
As per the media reports, the dead body of the victim was taken to her native village but the Court was pained and shocked to note that the same was not handed over to the family members and the body of the victim was cremated with the help of some other persons.
The family members kept demanding for the body and informed that as per their traditions, the cremation cannot be taken place after sunset, yet the District Authorities got the cremation performed contrary to the traditions.
Allegation of High Handedness by State Authorities
Court added that the matter is of grave importance as it involves an allegation of high handedness by the State Authorities resulting in violation of the basic human and fundamental rights of both the deceased and her family.
Court in view of the present matter, referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Parmanand Katara v. Union of India, (1995) 3 SCC 248, wherein the court considered various facets of Right to Life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
“…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 his body after his death“
Bench also quoted Oscar Wilde who said,
“Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses wearing above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace.”
Bombay High Court’s decision in Pradeep Gandhy v. State of Maharashtra; 2020 SCC Online Bombay 662 was also referred to wherein,
“Right to a decent burial commensurate with the dignity of the individual was reiterated as a recognized facet of the Right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.”
Issues to be examined:
- Whether there has been a gross violation of the fundamental rights of the deceased victim and the family members of the victim?
- Whether the State Authorities have acted oppressively high handedly and illegally to violate such rights as if it is found to be so, then, this would be a case where accountability will not only have to be fixed but for future guidance also stern action would be required.
- Whether the economic and social status of the deceased’s family has been taken advantage of by the State Authorities to oppress and deprive them of their Constitutional rights?
Rights available under the Constitution are to be protected
Rights of the individual citizens in the Country and State especially that of the poor and the downtrodden such as the family members of the deceased victim and the deceased herself are paramount.
Court also takes cognizance of the matter that the seat of governance being at Lucknow and the High Police Officials posted in the office of Director General of Police, U.P. at Lucknow justified the cremation at night.
In view of the above, Court directed the Senior Registrar of this Court at Lucknow to register a suo moto Public Interest Litigation with the title In Re: Right to decent and dignified last rites/cremation” and place it before the appropriate Bench having jurisdiction to hear Public Interest Litigations.
Court-appointed Senior Advocate, Jaideep Narain Mathur and Abhinav Bhattacharya Advocate as Amicus Curiae.
State Authorities are directed to ensure that no coercion, influence or pressure is exerted upon the family members of the deceased in any manner, by anyone.
Family members of the deceased victim i.e. the father, the mother, brothers and sisters shall be present before this Court so that this Court ascertains the facts and their version of the incidents which took place at the time of the cremation.
Matter has been listed on 12-10-2020. [Decided on 01-10-2020]