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India’s Treatment of the Dead: Shame on Humanity or Shame on Governance?


How come our society has stooped down to such levels? Is this incident a rare outlier in our so-called ‘culturally rich and diverse society’ or is it a feeling being identified by many? Are social conventions above the survival of a human? The earliest realization of the fact that the large size of India’s population is reeling under penury is the only way to catalyse the government for strategizing jobs/source of livelihood to every hand.

Heartbreaking recent news reports of a cloth merchant and his aides selling clothes stolen from crematoria, graveyards in UP’s Baghpat, and the large number of bloated and decomposed dead bodies floating in river Ganga in Bihar’s Buxar and UP’s Ghazipur uncovers the plight of the society. The administrative machinery responsible in the respective regions have flung into action and different debatable narrations have started coming up. Quite likely, stringent actions may be taken to prevent the recurrence of similar instances. But, the moot point is to reason out the coaxing factors for such ignominy at the time when India is eyeing the target of $5 trillion economy, that too with ‘Atmanirbharta’.

The incident of a group of people stealing clothes used during the last rites at crematoria and graveyards is certainly a blot on our social fabric and moralities. However, unfortunately, the looting of belongings of deceased in accidents is not new to India. Many cases of such loots have been reported in the pre-pandemic era as well. A matter for larger contemplative appetites is the fact that the bedsheets, kurtas, shirts, dhotis, etc. of the dead are still seen as a potential economic source. It is indeed an appalling reality of our civilisation which we need to face point-blank keeping aside the so-called excuse of ‘negativity all around in pandemic era.

Bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found floating in Ganges in Bihar
Men wearing protective suits cremate a COVID-19 infected relative on the banks of the river Ganga at Garhmukteshwar. Source: Reuters | The Tribune

As a matter to dwell upon, the economic benefits of undertaking such unsocial exercises seem to overpower the risk of getting exposed to the deadly viral infection as well as the emotional lesion inflicted upon the aggrieved family through such acts of theft. How come our society has stooped down to such levels? Is this incident a rare outlier in our so-called ‘culturally rich and diverse society’ or is it a feeling being identified by many? Are social conventions above the survival of a human?

For the people in and around the crematoria and graveyards, the last rites are part of their daily chores and help them survive. Thinking on emotional lines, one may find it awfully disgraceful to use the clothes and belongings of someone dead for economic purposes. However, a deep contemplation would reveal that such incidents are not ‘anti-social’ in their essence. They are a manifestation of the widespread poverty and inability of people to achieve economic well-being through legal means. They are an exemplification of the impact of incompetent governance on civilisational behaviour. Instead of looking at these incidents in isolation, one should view them as a part of the larger social distress unfolding in most parts of pandemic-hit India. Though greed has no limit in the materialism of the day, the government should attempt at opening up wider economic opportunities to assimilate such groups into the mainstream economy.

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A matter for larger contemplative appetites is the fact that the bedsheets, kurtas, shirts, dhotis, etc. of the dead are still seen as a potential economic source. It is indeed an appalling reality of our civilisation which we need to face point-blank keeping aside the so-called excuse of ‘negativity all around in pandemic era’.

The washing up of human bodies on the banks of river Ganga is another incident that has besmirched our civilization. The bodies are suspected to be of COVID-infected patients. If it is so, then the time for introspection has arrived. It is quite an irony that even a dead person’s dignity is bought through money! Unequivocally, the performance of last rites demands certain expenditure. The economic distress unleashed upon the society, at large, credited partly to the pandemic and partly to the poorly implemented policies of the governments have crippled the household economy of a major section. Supposedly, such financially constrained families prefer to save money for food instead of providing dignity to their dead kinsfolk.

Another prima-facie reasoning for such an incident could be the irresponsible behaviour of the overstretched civic authorities due to the sudden spike in the dead bodies. It is these authorities that are entrusted with the performance of the last rites of unclaimed. ‘Right to Die with Dignity’ has been interpreted as a fundamental right under Article 21. “By our tradition and culture, the same human dignity (if not more), with which a living human being is expected to be treated, should also be extended to a person who is dead,” the apex court said in its 2007 judgment in S. Sethu Raja vs The Chief Secretary. Hence, if it is so, the government has deprived its citizens of this very dignity of death!

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“The same human dignity, with which a living human being is expected to be treated, should also be extended to a person who is dead”, the apex court said in its 2007 judgment. Hence, if it is so, the government has deprived its citizens of this very dignity of death!

Nonetheless, it’s a blot on our society, and especially our ‘accountable’ governments, which have not only undermined the facilities of oxygen to save lives but also, possibly, the funeral rites of the dead!

The insufficiency of healthcare facilities, meager public spending in Government hospitals, costly private hospitals & pathological testings, poor integrity of suppliers and facilitators, etc. has overburdened society with the indelible stigma of people dying due to lack of oxygen, medicine, ventilators, etc.  Whatever is happening is an utter loss of face for those in governance.

The education system seems to have miserably failed to create a large pool of responsible citizens! Such incidents are an exemplification of the impact of incompetent governance on civilisational behaviour.

Since time immemorial, the need of bringing in high moral values, integrity, commitment, honesty, concern for surroundings, and dignity of work has been underlined for inculcation in every child right from the start of the formal and informal learning process. However, the education system seems to have miserably failed to create a large pool of responsible citizens!

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The irresponsible behaviour and greed are evident from the dilapidating systemic support to handle the pandemic suitably. Abraham Lincoln’s dictum about democracy as the “Government of the people, for the people, and by the people” appears to be losing relevance due to the fast pervading widespread belief of monumental failure of governance. It is time for honest introspection and fixing the issues so that the dignity of the human race is not ashamed in any eventuality. The earliest realization of the fact that the large size of India’s population is reeling under penury is the only way to catalyse the government for strategizing jobs/source of livelihood to every hand and, thus, money ushering into dignified life and death.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the author solely. TheRise.co.in neither endorses nor is responsible for them.

About the author

Prateek Yadav is a student of Political Science and writes on contemporary political issues.


Prateek Yadav

Prateek Yadav is a student of Political Science and writes on contemporary political issues.

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