UK court allows open air cremation for Hindus

Last Updated: Thursday, February 11, 2010 - 09:33

London: An Indian-origin social and
spiritual leader in the UK on Wednesday won the right to be cremated
in an open air funeral pyre according to Hindu rituals, ending
a prolonged legal battle.

In a landmark judgement, Britain`s Court of Appeal
granted Davender Ghai, 71, the right to be cremated after his
death in an open-air funeral pyre.
Delighted at the ruling, Ghai said the verdict had
"breathed new life into an old man`s dreams. I always
maintained that I wanted to clarify the law, not disobey or
disrespect it."

Since open air cremations anywhere outside a
crematorium have been prohibited in Britain under the 1902
Cremation Act, many Indian-origin families in Britain take
bodies of their deceased relatives to India for cremation
according to Hindu rites.

Ghai has been campaigning for the right to be
cremated according to his Hindu beliefs for several years and
sought legal redress.

His bid for Britain to allow open-air funeral pyres
was opposed by the Law Secretary on the ground that people
might be "upset and offended" by pyres and "find it abhorrent
that human remains were being burned in this way".
In a statement to the court, Ghai had said: "I will
not deny my claim is provocative, least of all in a nation as
notoriously squeamish towards death as our own.

"However, I honestly do not believe natural cremation
grounds would offend public decency - as long as they were
discreet, designated sites far from urban and residential
areas," Ghai said.

In 2006, the Newcastle City Council had forbidden him
from organising Hindu-style cremation. Ghai is the founder of
the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society (AAFS) based in Newcastle.

However, the Court of Appeal today ruled that the
pyre would be lawful after Ghai said it could include walls
and a roof with an opening.

The Court of Appeal understood my request was
consistent with both the spirit and letter of the law and my
only regret is that tax payers` money would have been saved
had that been recognised in 2006.

Ghai added: "My request was often misinterpreted,
leading many to believe I wanted a funeral pyre cremation in
an open field, whereas I always accepted that buildings and
permanent structures would be appropriate."

The campaign was sparked by the unique case of an
illegal Indian immigrant, who drowned in a canal in Southall,
west London, in December 2005.

Nobody came forward to identify him or report him
missing. After six months of forensic analysis, the
Metropolitan Police retrieved a number from his water-damaged
mobile phone. A call to the number was answered by Ghai.

It transpired that the man had once attended an AAFS
advice surgery in Newcastle. The group?s records revealed that
he was Rajpal Mehat, the son of (late) Amarjit Singh.
Ghai contacted Rajpal`s distraught mother and sister
in Punjab, who pleaded for traditional Hindu cremation in
Britain since the Coroner refused permission to fly Rajpal`s
body to Punjab.

Amidst lack of clarity about cremation laws, the
Northumbria Police were consulted and permitted Rajpal?s
natural open-air cremation, which took place on private
farmland in Northumberland.

However, the police later stated that offences "may"
have been committed under the cremation laws, but the Crown
Prosecution Service declined to prosecute.

Ghai, who has been in poor health, said: "I have
lived my entire life by the Hindu scriptures.

I now yearn to die by them and I do not believe that
natural cremation grounds ? as long as they were discreet,
designated sites far from urban and residential areas ? would
offend public decency.

"My loyalty is to Britain?s values of fairness,
tolerance and freedom.

If I cannot die as a true Hindu, it will mean those
values have died too."

PTI



First Published: Thursday, February 11, 2010 - 09:33

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