UK Hindu continues to fight for right to open-air cremation

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London, Mar.21 (ANI): A 70-year-old Hindu residing in Britain has said that he is determined to fight a case to allow him a natural cremation on a funeral pyre as per Hindu tradition, even as government lawyers will tell a High Court judge next week that allowing the elderly man's last wish would be abhorrent to the majority of the British population.

The case of Davender Kumar Ghai, a devout Hindu, fits no one's idea of a radical minority-rights activist, but the British Government's move to disallow his request, has aroused fierce hostility in some quarters among Britain's 558,000 Hindus.

According to The Telegraph, the National Council for Hindu Priests, in common with most British Hindu organisations, supports the man's claim, viewing it as "the single most significant campaign to promote Hindu religious freedom in British history".

But a Hindu academic, Jay Lakhani, has called it an "horrendous idea" that seeks to promote antiquated practices that would make Hinduism "look very outlandish, out of date and completely irrational".

Ghai has lived in Britain since 1958, is the founding president of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society and the holder of a Unesco Peace Gold Medal and an Amnesty International lifetime achievement award.

A resident of Newcastle-upon- Tyne, Ghai is in poor health and his final wish is to die in the knowledge that his son will be allowed to cremate him as per Hindu rights to ensure the liberation of his soul.

"I have lived my entire life by the Hindu scriptures. I now yearn to die by them and I do not believe that natural cremation grounds - as long as they were discreet, designated sites far from urban and residential areas - would offend public decency. My loyalty is to Britain's values of fairness, tolerance and freedom. If I cannot die as a true Hindu, it will mean those values have died too," Ghai claimed.

He is challenging Newcastle City Council's refusal to allow a designated site for open-air cremations. If the judicial review is successful, such sites could spring up around the country.

Three years ago, in a secluded field in Northumberland, The Times witnessed the lighting of Britain's first open-air funeral pyre since the Home Office authorised one for a Nepalese princess at Woking in 1934.

The mother and sister of an Indian man who died aged 31 were among a small group of mourners, led by Ghai, who watched as his body, covered in a white cloth, was placed on the wooden pyre.

A Brahmin priest led chanting as flowers were thrown into the consecrated fire. Incense burnt, water from the Ganges was sprinkled and an earthenware pot smashed to symbolise the soul's release and rebirth.

The ceremony was held in secret because Newcastle City Council had ruled that the 1902 Cremation Act outlawed it. (ANI)

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