A Dignified Burial, Denied- May 2020

June 15, 2020

In the month of May, 2020, a total of 17 incidents were reported. Chhattisgarh took the lead with 7 incidents, Jharkhand followed with 3 incidents, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar reported 2 incidents each and 1 incident each in Haryana, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh. The nature of the incidents this month included physical assault, threats and intimidation, nuisance, verbal abuse and denial of burial.

One of the issues that keep getting reported almost every month, but with no concrete solution is the denial of the right to be buried on the grounds of that person’s faith. The right to be buried with dignity is a basic human right, which is all the more relevant these days, as we see more and more people dying every day because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A case in point are two incidents that happened on the very same day, i.e. 5th of May, 2020, in Dantewada and Bastar Districts of Chhattisgarh, wherein villagers gathered in large numbers and opposed the burials of Bode Kashyap and Bima Kashyap respectively, because they were Christians. These mobs while denying the burials of these people, insisted that the families perform the last rites of the deceased according to Hindu rituals or waive their right to be buried in the village graveyard.

Incidents of denial of burial in the village graveyard are most commonly seen in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, neither of which has a law in place to combat social discrimination. Notably, Maharashtra is the only state that has enacted a law against social boycott, namely, the Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016. Section 2(g) of the Act defines social boycott as follows:

“Social Boycott” means the gesture or an act, whether oral or written, of any social discrimination between the members of the community.”

Under the Maharashtra Act, any form of social boycott is expressly prohibited and is deemed to be an offence punishable with imprisonment upto 3 years and fine. However, since the law is limited to the state of Maharashtra, there are no laws in the instant case, i.e. in Chhattisgarh that could be invoked to directly and effectively remedy the issue of “discrimination against a person” for using a public facility such as the village graveyard to bury their dead.

There is certainly a need in every state, particularly in states where social boycott is a trend, to have an effective law to deal with the menace of social boycott, because time and again, when incidents of social boycott takes place, it is reported at the local police station, but the police never registers an FIR against the culprits who discriminate against these victims in the village as is visible in both of the above mentioned incidents.

In both these cases despite the fact that the action of the culprits make for a cognisable and non-bailable offence under s. 153 B (b), Indian Penal Code, the police failed to register an FIR. Instead what ultimately happened in Bode Kashyap’s case was that the family members approached the Village Panchayat which then advised them to bury the deceased in a Christian graveyard situated in a neighbouring village named Bacheli.

And in Bima Kashyap’s case, once the matter was reported to the SHO at the local police station, the revenue inspector intervened at the request of the SHO and allotted a land for the Christians to bury the deceased member of their family.

Other alternative remedies at the disposal of victims of social boycott until a law that has teeth is passed, are to either approach the National or State Human Rights’ Commissions for compensation for this form of discrimination under section 18 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 or approach the Supreme Court or the High Courts under Articles 32 or 226 of the Constitution of India, for a permanent solution in the form of a law, preferably on a national level, to end all forms of social boycott.

The Right against Discrimination is a fundamental Right guaranteed to all persons under Article 15 of the Constitution of India which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth.