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Madras HC Orders Tamil Nadu Govt to Ensure Access to Common Burial Grounds Regardless of Caste

Justice N Anand Venkatesh lamented that it is quite unfortunate that even at the time of death, the caste factor does not leave a person.
Madras HC

Image credit: Sabrang India

The Madras High Court recently observed with anger that the 'loathsome practice' of prohibiting the cremation or burial of persons belonging to marginalised castes in common burial grounds continues in several villages of the state. Tamil Nadu prides itself on being a Dravidian state, yet such exclusionary practices continue.

It was Justice N Anand Venkatesh who lamented that it is quite unfortunate that even at the time of death, the caste factor does not leave a person, reported LiveLaw. (S Amirthavalli v. The District Collector, Coimbatore and ors)

"Persons belonging to this community are forced to cremate the dead bodies in some other place which has not been notified as a burial ground. Such a practice should be immediately stopped and everyone must be give an access to the burial ground irrespective of the caste or community to which they belong. Even at this length of time, the curse of the caste system is so prevalent particularly in villages and it piggyback even at the time of birth and does not even seem to leave even at the time of cremation. Alas we live in such sorry state of affairs," the Court observed.

The High Court further underscored that when it comes to the cremation of dead bodies, everyone must be allowed to cremate the dead bodies at the notified spaces irrespective of caste or community.

Advocating for stringent action to be taken against such perpetrators of crime, the Court remarked, "If the cremation is prevented by anyone on the ground that the person concerned belongs to a marginalized section, immediate action must be taken in accordance with law and such persons must be punished. Only if stringent actions are taken and the perpetrators of such crime are brought to book, such condemnable practices can be brought under control."

Justice Venkatesh proceeded to direct the authorities in Tamil Nadu to take strict action if it is found that the cremation of dead bodies is not being allowed based on caste.

It was also noted that the right to a decent burial is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India (right to life and personal liberty) and that such a fundamental right must ensure to all irrespective of the caste or creed to which one belongs.

"This should be borne in mind by the authorities and a complete revamp on the attitude of the people must be brought forth by taking stringent action against persons who follow such inhuman practice," the Court highlighted.

The Madras Court was adjudicating on a petition seeking directions to prevent the burial or cremation of dead bodies at certain government land in Pollachi. The petitioner contended that such land was needed to access certain property that belonged to her husband.

During the hearing, the High Court was apprised that the concerned land was being used to cremate dead bodies of persons belonging to a lower caste, as members of this community were not being allowed access to the nearby burial ground.

Furthermore, the government informed the Court that the concerned Block Development Officer had been directed to ensure that persons belonging to all communities are permitted to use the common burial ground.

Pursuant to the perusal of the submissions, the Court directed the authorities to ensure that cremation takes place on the notified/common burial ground, irrespective of the community, caste or creed.

"The cremation or burial of the dead bodies should not be allowed in any other places than those places which are specifically notified as a burial and burning ground under the relevant Rules," the Court further stated.

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