A Hindu lost his High Court battle in London on Friday for the right to be cremated on a traditional open-air funeral pyre.
Davender Ghai (70) had challenged the refusal of the Newcastle City Council to permit him to be cremated in accordance with his Hindu beliefs. Justice Cranston ruled that pyres were prohibited by law, and the order was “justified”.
Ghai had appealed to the High Court invoking Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects religious freedom, and Article 8, which covers the right to private and family rights, to overturn a decision by the Newcastle City Council in 2006 preventing funeral pyre in a remote site in Northumberland.
Ghai had told a previous hearing that a pyre was essential to “a good death” and the release of his spirit into the afterlife.
“I will not deny my claim is provocative, least of all in a nation as notoriously squeamish towards death as our own,” he said, adding that he wanted to die “with dignity” and not be “bundled in a box”.
“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,” he said.
Justice Cranston, while declining Ghai’s appeal, said Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who had resisted any change in existing laws, argued that people might get “upset and offended” by pyres and “find it abhorrent that human remains were being burned in this way”.
He said that while it was “a difficult and sensitive issue”, the court had to respect the conclusion of elected representatives. Those in support of pyres would have to change the “present balance of interests” through the political process, rather than the courts, the judge said.
The judge accepted the council’s plea that the traditional religious practice was impractical and that burning of human remains outside a crematorium was prohibited under the 1902 Cremation Act, a ruling the Ministry of Justice endorsed.
The court, however, gave Ghai permission to take his case to the Court of Appeal.
Had the court ruled in Ghai’s favour, it could have set a precedent for the 5,60,000 Hindus living in Britain.
(With agency inputs)