British Hindu vows fight ‘to the end’ for open air cremation

May 9th, 2009 - 2:45 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, May 9 (IANS) Davinder Kumar Ghai, a devout British Hindu whose plea to be cremated in the open was turned down by Britain’s high court, has vowed to continue his fight, saying the final rites of Hindus “must be done with dignity”.
The high court Friday ruled that open-air funeral pyres are illegal in Britain.

“It looks like a conspiracy that the judgement is given when I am in India for medical treatment. But I will not give up. I will ensure that Hindus are given a good death that is fundamental to their beliefs,” Ghai, 70, told IANS in an interview.

“I don’t want Hindus to be burnt in a crematorium at the Thames or at a football field. The final rites of Hindus must be done with dignity. They cannot be bundled in a box,” said Ghai, who is also the founder of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society (AAFS).

In his ruling, Justice Ross Cranston said The Cremation Act 1902 and its attendant regulations were clear in their effect: the burning of human remains, other than in a crematorium, is a criminal offence.

However, Justice Cranston gave Ghai permission to appeal against the ruling.

“I will take the case to the Court of Appeal and also to the European Court of Human Rights. This is a fight to the end,” said Ghai, who heads back to Newcastle late Saturday after a month-long stay in India.

“I want my son to light my pyre in open air - my 16 samskaras (sacraments) to be fulfilled - this is my religious right,” Ghai said.

According to Ghai, Britain’s Hindu national umbrella organisations, collectively representing over 560,000 Hindus, were supporting his review.

Ghai, who is the father of three children, had moved the high court to challenge a decision by Newcastle City Council in 2006 which said the traditional religious practice was impractical.

“Natural cremations will save grieving families from the spiralling expense of gas cremations as funeral directors are pledging to provide natural cremation services for a maximum of 500 pounds,” he said.

“What happened when 200,000 cattle were burnt some years back because of the foot and mouth disease? Did that not cause pollution?” he asked.

Ghai said that at least 200 green woodland burial sites now operate in Britain and approved natural cremation sites in rural pastures would offer privacy to mourning families.

Ghai, who is also known as Babaji among his followers, said his body is weakened due to health problems like high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes, but his resolve is strong.

“These are pertinent issues. For instance, on the weekend Hindus cannot cremate a dead body because Jews and Muslims are given those days for burial. They question why we didn’t raise this when the regulations were imposed - the fact is we are peace-loving people, but our religious sentiments matter,” he said.

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