In a case shining light on the rights deprived to LGBTQIA+ persons due to the lack of marriage equality in India, a queer person in Kerala has been forced to approach the High Court seeking to be allowed to receive the mortal remains of his deceased partner. Jebin had to move the court after the biological family of his late partner, Manu, refused to pay the medical expenses and collect his body from a private hospital in Kochi. Manu, who was critically injured after assumedly falling from his house terrace on the night of February 2, was on ventilator support at the Aster Medcity hospital for two days. He was declared dead around 11.15 pm on February 4, but with his own family refusing to collect his body and the Indian law not recognising his partner Jebin as a legal heir, Manu’s body has remained unclaimed for two days.
“Jebin does not want Manu to be orphaned in death. He can’t let Manu’s body go unclaimed. Manu deserves respect in death, and Jebin wants to make no concessions in how his final rites are conducted,” advocate Padma Lakshmi, who filed the petition on behalf of Jebin, told TNM. The High Court, which considered it an urgent petition, sent a notice to Aster Medcity via email on February 5 and adjourned the hearing to February 6.
Justice Devan Ramachandran, during the hearing on February 6, sought to be briefed on the government protocol in such a scenario — which is that bodies unclaimed by biological family or legal heirs will have to be handed over to a government medical college for medical research.
Adv Padma informed the judge that Jebin was prepared to pay the medical expenses in full to Aster Medcity, and requested him to allow Jebin to collect Manu’s body from the hospital. The couple’s friends had collected the money via an online crowd-funding campaign.
The judge has scheduled another hearing on February 7 to hear the family’s side, after which a final decision will be made.
Manu and Jebin have been living together as partners for the past few years, according to their friend and queer rights activist Athul PV. They also got married in a traditional ceremony last year, even though it is not officially recognised by Indian law.
“Manu’s friends and even the police had to persuade his family to visit him at the hospital. Later when they learned that bills to the tune of nearly Rs 1.5 lakh will have to be paid for his body to be released, they said they don’t have money. They instead said if we [Manu’s friends] pay the bills, they will collect his body and do the final rites. Then they just left the hospital without informing anyone,” Athul told TNM.
Athul added that several people from the LGBTQIA+ community, including some who did not even know Manu and Jebin personally, had arrived in the hospital to extend any support they could offer. “Manu’s own family seemed more distant from him than all of them put together,” he said, highlighting the social and familial isolation faced by queer persons who come out and assert their identity publicly. “Even when an LGBTQIA+ person is faced with a tragic accident and death, neither society nor the law is by their side. This is the extent of the neglect that queer persons experience in almost every aspect of life,” he said.
Athul also pointed out that this is a medico-legal case and the Kalamassery police are investigating the incident. "We believe what happened to Manu was an accident, but we can confirm this only after the probe is completed," he added.
On October 17, 2023, a five-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud had refused to grant marriage equality to LGBTQIA+ persons, stating that it was up to the Parliament to create a law. In the meantime, LGBTQIA+ persons continue to be deprived of their rights, with the country’s judicial system refusing to recognise a queer person who might even have spent a lifetime with their queer partner as a spouse, as a legal heir to their partner.
Read TNM's detailed reports on the marriage equality hearings here.