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Hindus, Sikhs rally for religious freedom

Anglo-Asian Friendship Society, a race relations charity, is now pressing for a change in the law to allow lighting of funeral pyres.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2006 19:59 IST

Hindus and Sikhs have been campaigning for the right to light funeral pyres in the British countryside. Now a race relations charity has joined their struggle.

Since 1930 open-air cremations have been banned but the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society is now pressing for a change in the law. In a country which has more than 550,000 Hindus and 320,000 Sikhs, this charity is asking the Newcastle city council to help it identify and set up a funeral site at least 10 miles from the city centre. The charity is considering taking a test case against the council to the High Court in London.

It plans to cite article nine of the Human Rights Act which covers "freedom of thought, conscience and religion". If the legal action fails here, the charity could move the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Davendar Ghai, president of the charity said that while some Hindus and Sikhs take the expensive option of sending the bodies of loved ones to India for cremation, many others use gas-powered furnaces at British crematoria, which does not conform to their religion. He said, "It is catastrophic for Hindus if their ashes are not fully gathered and specks are left over or even mixed in with another deceased.

"We cannot blame funeral directors, who do their best to accommodate cultural requirements."

The 2,000-member charity wants sites to be set up across the country. It says its Newcastle plans meet all planning and environmental regulations.

The society's legal adviser Andrew Bogan said, "This is a long-standing requirement that is as old as the religion itself and it has been neglected far too long."

A spokesman for Newcastle City Council said it would consider the legal, environmental and financial implications of the society's proposal before making any comment.

First Published: Feb 02, 2006 19:59 IST