Kochi: On October 17 last year, the Supreme Court of India decided not to legalise same-sex unions. While people in general did not bat an eye, thinking they are saving the institution of marriage, the fact remains that the union would have brought about certain changes — which many believe are “imperative for equality”.
In Kerala, a gay man’s death has brought the discussion into the spotlight again. The deceased person’s family is not claiming the body. His partner, who wants to claim the body and take care of the funeral process, is unable to do so due to the laws not recognizing the relationship.
Jebin, the partner, found himself compelled to seek legal recourse when Manu’s family members declined responsibility for settling the medical bills and arranging for the retrieval of the body from a private hospital in Kochi.
Following a severe injury, likely sustained from a fall on the night of February 2, Manu underwent critical care at Aster Medcity hospital. He breathed his last after surviving for two days on ventilator support.
Despite his passing being confirmed approximately at 11:15 pm on February 4, the deceased family refused to take custody of his mortal remains.
Complicating matters, Indian law does not recognize Jebin as a lawful inheritor, leaving his partner’s body unclaimed for two days. He then approached the Kerala High Court, seeking justice.
“The partner of the deceased approached the court so that the mortal remains are released to him,” Advocate Padma Lakshmi, who is representing Jubin, told The Mooknayak.
She said he has promised to bear the entire expenses since the family is refusing to accept the body. “The deceased was a gay; and therefore, his family refused to accept his body for burial,” she alleged.
She said the deceased family is claiming that they do not have enough money to pay the hospital bills and burial cost. “Many social activists have come forward to help them settle the entire amount. Still, they are not ready to accept the body. They are not even willing to go to the hospital for one last time. Finally, on Sunday night, a family member called me and told me that they do not ‘need’ the body,” she said.
She said the hospital follows some protocols. If a body is unclaimed, she said, it will be donated to the hospital for medical students to study.
“But technically, the body is not unclaimed at all as the deceased partner is willing to take it for burial. Even a dead body has the fundamental right. And therefore, we have prayed to the court to grant him legal rights to claim the body. If a wife can claim her deceased husband’s body, why can’t the same happen in this case? This is a perfect case of discrimination,” she said.
The matter was scheduled for hearing on Wednesday.
According to a report by The News Minute, Manu and Jebin had been cohabitating as partners for several years. They had tied matrimonial knots, albeit unrecognized by Indian law.
The same report quotes one Athul, who is the couple’s friend and a LGBTQIA+ activist. He recounted that Manu’s family required persuasion from friends and even the intervention of the police to visit him at the hospital.
Subsequently, upon learning about the substantial medical bills amounting to nearly Rs 1.5 lakh for the release of the body, he said, the family pleaded financial incapacity. “Instead, they proposed that if Manu’s friends footed the bills, they would then collect his body for the final rites, only to depart from the hospital without notice,” he alleged.
Talking about the case, the advocate questioned, “This case also has the capacity to lead a change. If a cohabiting gay couple has lived for many years and if one partner’s blood relatives have passed away, what will happen then? Will the body remain unclaimed even when there is another person with whom the deceased had chosen as family?”
The Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, while reading out the same-sex marriage verdict, on October 17, last year, had said that “the right to enter into a union includes the right to choose one’s partner and the right to recognition of that union”.
“A failure to recognise such associations will result in discrimination against queer couples,” said the CJI.
The apex court, however, refused to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages, saying there is no fundamental right to marry guaranteed by the Constitution.