Body of Hindu man who died of Covid-19 lies in mortuary for over month as family fight over last rites
Durban - THE body of a Hindu man from the Western Cape has been lying in a mortuary for more than a month as his family wrangled over who should perform his last rites.
Rakesh Nana, of Worcester in the Western Cape, died on June 24 after contracting Covid-19. In terms of health regulations, the body should have been cremated or buried within three days.
According to Hindu custom, the disposal of the body should happen as soon as possible after death.
The matter is now before a judge in the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town and is set down for August 17.
Nana was 40 years old. He was married to Praneshvari, but for the past two years the couple had lived apart. They had two children, a boy aged 16 and a girl aged 7.
Nana moved in with his sister, Panna, who shared a home with their parents. However, both parents died days apart at the end of May as a result of Covid-19.
When Nana died, his sister brought the application together with her two adult children, Aman and Nina. They claimed that four months before his death, Nana signed an affidavit that he had commissioned at a police station asking that his last rites be conducted by Aman, who he (Nana) had come to regard as his eldest son. The affidavit was submitted to the court.
Panna and her family said they had no objection to Praneshvari or her children participating in the prayers. She also had no objection to Nana’s son participating in the last rites. But Panna felt the last rites needed to be performed by Aman. Praneshvari refused and asked that the matter be dismissed with costs. She rejected the argument that Aman be regarded as the eldest son.
“This allegation should be dismissed as the deceased has a son of his own. The deceased’s son is the only one person to have any clear right to the remains he has an obligation and duty to attend to the funeral arrangements and receive the ashes after the cremation,” she said in court papers.
She said once the ashes had been collected it was the duty of the eldest son to have them immersed in water and to do the necessary prayers afterwards. Praneshvari said that she was in the process of getting divorced, but she and her children called Nana regularly and that they had tried on numerous occasions to reconcile. In the court papers, allegations were made that Nana was financially dependent on his sister. Praneshvari rejected this.
“The deceased left our marital home with all the money, the bank cards and the cars. It is very difficult to believe that while he left us with nothing, that he was financially dependent on the applicants. At this point, it is important for the court to know that while the deceased had the luxury of going on expensive holidays, his children and I were suffering at home with no income and money to survive, while he failed to pay maintenance.”
Luckshman Vishnu Maharaj, a Hindu priest from Gauteng, submitted an affidavit to the court in which he said the couple had an acrimonious relationship.
He added that it was unfortunate that Praneshvari wanted to control the funeral rites and delay the cremation instead of resolving the differences she had with Nana while he was alive.
He said the couple had been separated for two years and their divorce was almost finalised.
According to Maharaj, Nana was forced out of his marital home in Worcester and had moved in with his sister, Panna.
He claimed Praneshvari had at some stage served Nana and his sister with a protection order which prevented them going near the Worcester house.
However, the order was subsequently withdrawn. He said the number of legal disputes between the parties showed the rift and feud between them.
Maharaj said the last rites should be done in accordance with the deceased’s last wishes.
“The fundamental basis of Hinduism is the individual’s choice and the choice of the individual must be respected.”
Maharaj added that Praneshvari and the children should join Panna, her husband and two children in the last rites.
He also said the cremation should be done as quickly as possible to protect society from the spread of the disease, for the emotional and psychological benefit of the family and out of respect for the deceased.
In court papers, Praneshvari said she intended to bring an application to strike out what she described as “various hearsay and unqualified allegations made by so-called experts” without any expert notice filed. This included the affidavit of Maharaj.
She said she planned to consult other experts to contest the recommendations that were put forward.
Ashwin Trikamjee, president of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, told the POST this week that the Sabha had tried to intervene.
“The one party was willing to co-operate, but the other was very headstrong. I was told that the matter was a sub judice legal matter and we should leave the courts to decide the outcome.”
In a draft order made on July 1, Avbob (funeral parlour), which was cited in the court application, was ordered to go ahead with the cremation at the first available opportunity.
Payment for the cremation, who gets the ashes and the issue of legal costs is expected to be finalised later this month.
Marius du Plessis, spokesperson for Avbob, said it was in the process of executing the court’s order after several discussions with the relatives of the deceased and after having consulted their legal representatives.
“It’s also my understanding that there were, until recently, documents outstanding that delayed the process.
“I can, however, confirm that the cremation will be done as soon as the required documents are in our possession and that the ashes will be kept pending the final determination of the application on August 17.
“Avbob obviously has no personal interest in the matter, and our only concern is to render a service to the family and that we comply with the order issued by the high court.”