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SC issues notice in plea for resumption of traditional Parsi funeral rites

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The Supreme Court has issued notice on a petition by the Surat Parsi Panchayat demanding permission for resuming traditional funeral rites of the Parsis and to recognize the community’s funeral workers on par with health workers.

The petition has been filed against the Gujarat High Court order, which disallowed the traditional Parsi method of disposing of their dead in the Towers of Silence, open wells for vultures to feed on the bodies, and instead ordered their cremation as per Union Health Ministry guidelines following the coronavirus outbreak.

For Parsis, being denied their traditional funeral of the dead being consigned to the Towers of Silence and being exposed to scavenger birds has posed a serious question about disposing of their dead. In the past month, many Parsis have been cremated in Surat alone.

A report quoted Surat Parsi Panchayat president Jamshed Dotiwala saying the last rites of Parsis who are dying of Covid-19 are being performed as per guidelines for Covid-19 cremation by the government. The bodies are not being handed over to the family but directly sent for the cremation process to contain the virus as per guidelines.

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The petition said the Parsis in India have practiced the ancient system of disposing of their dead where their bodies are placed in open-to-the-sky wells which are called Dakhmas where the bodies are desiccated under the sun and eaten by vultures. In Mumbai, the Parsi dead are taken to a 55-acre verdant forest in Malabar Hill, a 350-year-old Doongerwadi complex. This method of disposal is preferred by  90% of the community in Mumbai, the report said.

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