An ethnic Indian has taken his battle to die as a devout Hindu to an appeal court after a local authority in the U.K. ruled against allowing open-air cremations according to ancient religious rituals.
71-year-old Davender Ghai, from Tyneside, wants the right to burn funeral pyres in accordance with Hindu religious and cultural beliefs.
He is approaching an appeal court in a three-year battle to overturn a decision by Newcastle city council, which denied him a licence for a pyre because it was unlawful under the 1930 Cremation Act, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper.
The high court last May upheld the local authority’s ruling and justified the prohibition.
The Hindu community in the U.K. was outraged by comments of Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who supported the legislation prohibiting an open pyre funeral.
Mr. Straw, intervened in the case, contending that the legislation was not incompatible with Mr. Ghai’s human rights and that the decision was justified on the grounds of public health, public safety, public health and public morals.
“To suggest a practice which has been carried out for thousands of years and still is by 800 million Hindus in India is somehow ‘abhorrent’ is insensitive and very unhelpful. No one, including Baba Ghai, has ever suggested doing outdoor cremations in public,” the Hindu Forum of Britain reacted angrily to Mr. Straw’s remarks.
Hindus constitute the third largest religious group in the U.K., and there is potentially significant demand for open-air cremations.
Mr. Ghai, a devout Hindu, insists that the process is essential to free the soul after death. He had said that as a Hindu, he believed his “soul should be liberated in consecrated fire, ‘Agni’, after death — a sacramental rebirth.”
Mr. Ghai was optimistic about his chances in the court of appeal.
“He (Straw) should not have said those things about our tradition and culture. We gained a lot of support after that. I’m very positive I can win this. The only way I will give up is if I die,” Mr. Ghai was quoted as saying by the British daily.
The hearing is expected to last three days.
Last year Mr. Ghai had told the High Court he wanted to die “with dignity” and not be “bundled in a box“.
Mr. Ghai’s had earlier told the High Court that he wanted his 40-year-old eldest son Sanjay, who lives in Canada, to light the funeral pyre while the rest of his family watches.
In 2006 Newcastle City Council had refused Mr. Ghai permission to establish a site for cremations in the open.
According to the ruling of the local authority, the burning of human remains anywhere outside a crematorium was prohibited under the 1902 Cremation Act — a ruling supported by the U.K. Ministry of Justice.
Many British Hindus send the bodies of their relatives to India to ensure they are burnt in line with religious tradition.