Manipur Violence: SC issues direction to ensure dignified burial of unidentified bodies of persons killed during ethnic clashes

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The Supreme Court (SC) of India today ordered the Manipur government to ensure dignified and decent burial or cremation of the unclaimed and unidentified bodies of those who were killed during the ethnic clashes in Manipur in May 2023. The bodies were kept in Mortuaries. The bench, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice Manoj Misra, and Justice JB Pardiwala, was reported by a committee appointed by the SC that among 175 bodies in mortuaries, 169 were identified with a count of 81 and 88 claimed and unclaimed respectively. The bench further emphasized that “Bearing in mind the fact that violence in the state of Manipur had taken place in May 2023, it would not be either appropriate or proper to keep the bodies which have not been identified or claimed indefinitely in the mortuaries.” The SC issued seven directions to the State government which are as follows:

  • The performance of last rites for bodies that have been identified and claimed can be carried out by the next of kin at any of the designated 9 sites without interference from third parties.
  • The next of kin of the identified bodies will be informed by the State authorities. This notification process will be completed by the upcoming Monday.
  • For bodies that have been identified but not claimed, the state administration will send a communication to the next of kin by the upcoming Monday.
  • The State has permission to conduct the burial or cremation of unidentified bodies while ensuring that religious rites are respected.
  • To maintain law and order during the burial or last rites, the Collector and SP have the authority to take appropriate measures.
  • The State will ensure that DNA samples, which were not collected during the autopsy, are taken.
  • The state has the option to issue a public notice stating that if identified bodies are not claimed within one week, the state will proceed with the last rites as per religious rites.

During the hearing today, a heated argument between the Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves who appeared for the petitioner, and Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta was witnessed. After perusing the report submitted by the Committee, the CJI said, “The next kin of those bodies identified are willing to claim bodies, but certain civil society organizations are preventing them. The state government has identified 9 burial sites. Burial can’t be outside these sites. The civil societies are insisting that burial; should be in some unidentified sites, which is creating tension.” Following this, the bench issued directions (afore-mentioned) to ensure dignified cremation of unidentified bodies.