COVID: Parsi body moves Gujarat HC seeking permission for traditional last rites of community members

AHMEDABAD: 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 the community to perform last rites of its members 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.

According to Dr Homi Doodhwala, a petitioner in the matter, at least 180 members of the Parsi community have died due to COVID-19 in the country so far.

In its plea, the Surat Parsi Panchayat Board and its trustee Dr Doodhwala, said it seeks to protect the fundamental right to perform the last rites of community members who died of COVID-19 as per its tradition of Dokhmenashini.

In Dokhmenashini 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.

Speaking to PTI, Dr Doodhwala said a total of 180 Parsis have died of COVID-19 so far in the country.

As per information gathered from local sources, 105 deaths have been reported in Mumbai, 26 in Surat, 22 in Navsari, seven each in Ahmedabad and Pune, four in Delhi, three in Nagpur, and two each in Kolkata and Hyderabad, etc, he said.

The plea stated that 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 petition, moved by lawyer Asim Pandya, said the community has been compelled by the authorities to opt for either cremation or burial of the deceased members “as against their religious practice and sentiments”.

“Since the (government’s COVID-19) guidelines do not recognise other modes of disposal of bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients, respondents (state, Surat municipal corporation and Surat collector) do not allow the Parsi community to follow its 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.