UK Sikhs, Hindus want burial pyres
A race relations organisation pushes for traditional burial rites for Hindus and Sikhs.india Updated: Mar 08, 2006 16:02 IST
A race relations organisation seeking permission from local authorities to hold open-air funerals for British Hindus and Sikhs lit a pyre of a dead animal to show that the ritual did not break any laws.
Gosforth-based Anglo-Asian Friendship Society has been petitioning the Newcastle City Council to dedicate a piece of land outside the city where open-air funerals could be performed.
The society enacted the funeral over the weekend after its members felt their petition to the council had not made much headway. The society believes that a loophole in the law enables them to hold the services but it is also prepared to take its battle to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.
Society president Davender Ghai lit the pyre - of an animal - on private land in the Newcastle council area, and the organisation declared that it would now go ahead with a human pyre for any Hindu or Sikh member who requested it.
At its office in Gosforth, nearly 80 people have put their name on a list requesting an open pyre.
Reports say that a Channel 4 crew filmed the funeral of the animal and it will be shown later this month.
Ghai told The Journal: "I did not light the pyre for publicity or to defy British values. I myself am British and have charitably served our country for over 20 years and expect respect for sincere religious belief, whether Hindu or any other.
"We believe in inclusive societies and wanted to work hand in hand with the council but their apathy compelled us to take this stand."
There is a dispute over the interpretation of the 1930 Cremation Act. Some believe that it banned any such funeral service but, according to legal adviser Andrew Bogan, open-air pyres do not fall under the definition of cremation.
If the pyres are on private, secluded land and cause no complaints or objections they are not breaking any law. The council should have no environmental concerns, Bogan said.
The organisation says that not only are 437,000 wooden coffins wastefully burnt each year but no threat was found when air and soil pollution was investigated after the mass burning of hundreds of cattle during the foot-and-mouth crisis.
According to the organization, many Hindus and Sikhs are deeply offended by the use of gas-powered furnaces and many even take their relative's bodies to India for cremation.
A council spokeswoman said that a meeting had been arranged between the society's members and Stephen Savage, head of public health and environmental protection at the council.