An Indian-born Briton is seeking the intervention of the courts in reversing British laws to allow open-air cremations according to traditional Hindu custom.
Davender Kumar Ghai is challenging Newcastle city council's decision to deny him an open-air cremation when he dies. In 2006 the local authority blocked his attempt to establish Britain's first approved site for burning bodies in the open, ruling it would breach cremation laws.
His contention is that open-air pyres fall outside the 1902 Cremation Act, which regulates what happens inside a crematorium, defined as "any building fitted with appliances for the purpose of burning human remains". The hearing in November is expected to last three days.
Andrew Singh Dogan, the legal coordinator of the multi-faith Anglo-Asian Friendship Society, said a positive outcome would primarily benefit Hindus, although people from all backgrounds could opt for an open-air cremation.
"An open-air pyre is £500 and a cheaper alternative to a traditional cremation, which costs at least £2,000 and has you in and out in half an hour. An open-air pyre allows you to make it an all-day event, where you can eat, drink and cry and make it a family occasion."
Ghai, who is the head of the friendship society, was responsible for the first human funeral pyre in Britain since 1934, when the Home Office authorised the outdoor cremation of Sumshere Jung, a Nepalese princess and the wife of the Nepalese ambassador.
Ghai also arranged for the body of Rajpal Mehat, a 31-year-old Indian illegal immigrant found drowned in a London canal, to be burnt on a wooden pyre at a secret location in Northumberland in 2006. Newcastle council deemed the ceremony illegal and a police file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, but he was ultimately let off without prosecution.
However, Jay Lakhani, of the Hindu Academy, described open-air cremation as an "antiquated practice". He told the Guardian: "Modern India is growing up and in tiny villages where they don't have facilities they have these pyres. In Britain we are very lucky to have hygienic crematoriums. The ceremonial aspects should evolve to reflect the changes in society."