Open air cremations for Hindus
The arguments for and against allowing Hindu funeral pyres
THE ARGUMENTS FOR
Our current legislation fails to respect a fundamental religious freedom. Funeral rituals are extremely important to Hindus, who should be allowed to observe the customs they have followed for 4,000 years.
According to Hindu beliefs, open-air cremations are vital to liberating the soul. Davender Ghai, who is pursuing a case against Newcastle City Council in the High Court, says that being cremated indoors would have "devastating effects for him in the afterlife."
The law, as it stands, is neither enforced nor enforceable. Davender Ghai tested this out when he cremated Rajpal Mehat in Northumberland in July 2006 and wasn't prosecuted.
Hindu beliefs say that the bodies of the dead should be cremated before the following sunset. But as things stand, while Muslims and Jews are fast-tracked, Hindus often have to wait for a week.
Open-air cremations pose no risks to public health. Tests carried out after the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak showed that they caused no harm to either people or the environment.
THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST
Britain is not a Hindu society. If people want to live - and die - in Britain, they should be prepared to observe local laws and respect local sensitivities.
Britain has already had this debate. Open-air funeral pyres were outlawed by the 1930 Cremation Act, which the Ministry of Justice still considers correct.
However romantic they sound, these pyres are actually quite disgusting. They last for up to 24 hours, they smell bad, and if body parts fall off the pyre, someone has to throw them back on the fire.
There is no law in Hinduism which compels its followers to burn their dead outdoors - it's simply a custom. And any rational argument would lead to the conclusion that being cremated in the conventional manner does not imprison Hindus' souls.
Refusing to allow Hindus open air cremation is simply not a Human Rights case. It's a case of public health, public safety and public morality, all of which mean it should continue to be banned.
If the High Court ruled that Hindus could have these open-air cremations, it would set a dangerous precedent. Britain's Zoroastrians could conceivably argue that they should be allowed to leave their dead to be devoured by vultures. ·
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