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Demand for funeral pyres for Hindus, Sikhs

An organisation has appealed to ensure that dead bodies of Hindus and Sikhs are cremated on traditional funeral pyres.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2006 19:18 IST

An organisation here plans to petition the European Court of Human Rights to ensure that dead bodies of Hindus and Sikhs are cremated on traditional funeral pyres instead of in electric crematoriums.

Britain has a large minority of Hindus and Sikhs, but arrangements for the deceased within the communities are different from what is ordained by the scriptures. There are instances of families taking the bodies to India for cremation according to proper rituals.

The Anglo-Asian Friendship Society based in Gosforth, near Newcastle, is approaching the Newcastle City Council and the European Court of Human Rights to demand traditional funeral arrangements for Hindus and Sikhs.

Davender Ghai, president of the charity, told the local media: "Many Hindus and Sikhs in England object to mechanic gas-fuelled cremation but, without any alternative, reluctantly comply.

"Now our legal team is preparing a case under the 1998 Human Rights Act and may plead directly to the European Court of Human Rights.

"We voice the views of members who feel that cremation services are a modern practicality but, according to Hindu scripture, a certain route to bad death for the departing soul. Without proper explanation the ancient funeral rituals seem meaningless.

"However, reincarnation is a foundation of the faith and the older generation fully believe that without these essential last rites, the soul languishes in restless torment.

"Specific rules dictate, for instance, that ashes must naturally cool for collection three days later. We cannot blame funeral directors, who do their best to accommodate cultural requirements.

"However, it is catastrophic for Hindus if their ashes are not fully gathered and specks are left over or even mixed in with another deceased. Sadly, some Asian families take bodies abroad to ensure appropriate funerals."

The 1930 Cremation Act prevents funeral pyres in England.

However, British authorities have allowed the use of certain rivers where the ashes of the dead may be scattered, instead of travelling to Haridwar in India. The Soar, the Thames and the Wye are among such rivers officially designated as the 'Ganges'.

In keeping with tradition, the Soar has been anointed with water from the Ganges to make it a credible substitute for the holy river.

Leicester has a large population of Gujarati Hindus, whose request to the Environment Agency to use the river Soar for post-death Hindu ceremonies was approved some time ago.

A boat-hire company has been authorised to provide customised service for the funerals, which are increasing in demand. Ceremonies take place on a secluded river bend between the villages of Barrow upon the Soar and Mountsorrel, where the Soar meets the river Wreake.

Narrow boats are hired for 55 pounds as one-time cost and boarded by close family members. The ashes are scattered, along with flowers, powder, tulsi grass and holy leaves.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said that ceremonies in the Soar had been authorised.

"We have designated a secluded place on the river, so that ashes are disposed of with due consideration for other river users. We have forbidden offerings such as photographs and metal and plastic items, which could litter the riverbanks.

"Our officers analyse the water from the Soar on a monthly basis, but have never found anything amiss."

First Published: Jan 14, 2006 19:18 IST