Together in Life and Death: Meet the Mumbai Couple Who Wants to Die Together


Together in Life and Death: Meet the Mumbai Couple Who Wants to Die Together

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

“Until death do us part,” is the vow most married couples take. But Narayan and Iravati Lavate want to be together even in death. A retired and healthy couple in their 80s, they wished to be humanely put to death. But in India, there exists no law regulating euthanasia.

The elderly couple from Mumbai’s Charni Road had also written a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, seeking permission for an “active euthanasia in 2018”. They didn’t get a response. In an interview, Narayan Lavate, who is 89 now, had joked about how he might have to get an advertisement printed in the newspaper asking don Arun Gawli or his associates to come forward and kill them.

“At present we don’t have any ailment or deformity. There is no guarantee that it’ll be the case even in future. Instead of living further and creating trouble for others it is better to die. We had decided that we won’t have children. There is no one in our family,” Narayan said.

After the letter to the President received media attention, several NGOs approached the couple throughout 2018 to place them in old-age homes. The Lavates turned them down. “We don’t want to depend on anyone. That is why we did not have children. But now even to walk outside on the lane, I need help,” Iravati said. The couple believes living beyond the age of 75 is a crime, since there is no purpose of living and they are dependent on others.

A maid buys vegetables for them and cleans their house daily. Iravati receives ₹25,000 in pension, and they spend around ₹500 per day. Having lived in Laxmibai Chawl for 75 years, they have seen Mumbai transform in front of their eyes.

The Lavates have seen the city transport system transition from a 10 paisa tram to taxis, Ubers, Metro rail and electric buses. The couple disagrees on many things, like who should operate the TV remote, but they both agree on one thing, that pedestrians need more space, The Indian Express reported.

Narayan worked with the state transport department for decades, while Iravati worked as a teacher at Aryan Education Society High School. Narayan’s visits to his old office in Mumbai Central have stopped due to “too much traffic”. He keeps himself busy by reading five newspapers to stay updated. Iravati keenly follows a Marathi serial every evening. Life is going by but they now want to stop.

The Lavates pursuit for dignified death has been relentless. Narayan once went to the blood bank and told them to “take all my blood”. He also tried to kill himself once, walking into Mumbai’s Girgaon Chowpatty, before he was rescued by some people. The couple has also written to Dignitas, a Swiss nonprofit that provides assisted death. Narayan even got himself enrolled as a member of that hospital, but he couldn’t get a passport. “She has the passport, but unless I get a passport and visa, we can’t travel to Switzerland. So that plan had to be cancelled,” he said.

The case of the Lavates has ignited a much-needed debate in the country around the ethical, legal and moral implications of euthanasia. Active euthanasia, which includes the administration of lethal compounds with the purpose of ending life, is illegal in India, as in many other countries. However, passive euthanasia in now permissible since 2018, after a historic judgement by the Supreme Court. Patients must consent through a living will, and must be either terminally ill or in a vegetative state, to be considered for passive euthanasia.