Supreme Court Denies Request to Repatriate Sufi Leader's Remains

The Supreme Court, in a significant ruling, has stated that no Indian citizen possesses the right to repatriate the mortal remains of a foreigner to India. This verdict came in response to a plea filed by a Sufi Dargah based in Prayagraj, seeking to bring back the mortal remains of its spiritual leader, Hazrat Shah. Shah, although born in India, became a Pakistani citizen in 1992 and passed away in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Advocate Arundhati Katju, representing the petitioner, argued before a bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra. Katju contended that Shah's relatives in Prayagraj were eager to fulfill his last wishes of being buried in the Dargah precincts, emphasizing the unkempt state of his tomb in Dhaka.

However, the bench maintained a firm stance, asserting that Indian citizens lacked the right to repatriate the mortal remains of a foreign national. The court highlighted the inherent challenges in entertaining a petition under Article 32, particularly considering Shah's Pakistani citizenship. It emphasized that there was no constitutional right for the petitioners to enforce the transfer of Shah's mortal remains from Dhaka to India.

The bench elaborated, "Apart from the practical difficulties such as exhumations, as a matter of first principle it would not be appropriate or lawful for the court to direct the body of a person, who is admittedly a citizen of a foreign state, to be brought to India for last rites," before dismissing the petition.

Despite being born in Prayagraj and migrating to Pakistan, where he obtained citizenship, Shah's followers in India appointed him as the Sajjada-nasheen, or spiritual leader, of the Dargah in 2008.

The petitioner asserted that Shah had executed a Will in 2021 expressing his desire to be buried at the shrine beside his ancestors' graves. However, Shah passed away in Dhaka during a visit to Bangladesh in January 2022.

Following the dismissal of the petition, Katju revealed that Shah's younger sister, Khalida Yusuf Sabir, had made several representations to the authorities, seeking the transportation of his mortal remains, but had received no response. Katju then asked if the court could direct the authorities to at least respond to Sabir's representations. However, the bench declined to issue such a directive.