Hindus seek modification of British cremation law

By Ecumenical News International
14 Apr 2007

Leaders of Britain's Hindu community of more than 500,000 are asking to be given the same cultural and religious freedoms enjoyed by other major religions in the United Kingdom (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) when it comes to funerals - writes Trevor Grundy.

"We are asking for the right to cremate our dead in the way they have been cremated in India and other places for the last 4,000 years," 31-year old barrister Andrew Bogan said at the headquarters of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society in Newcastle, north-east England.

He explained: "The way Hindus cremate the dead is at the heart of our religion. We've been running a campaign for the last six months and at least there are signs that we're getting somewhere."

London's Times newspaper has reported recently that Hindus may win the right to open-air cremations.

An attempt to establish the first approved site for the centuries old spiritual ceremonies in Northumberland, northern England, was blocked in 2006 after a local authority ruled made it would breach cremation laws.

But in September 2006 the decision was challenged by Davender Kumar Ghai, aged 68, who says he dreads the thought of a local authority cremation authorised by the Cremation Act of 1902.

"It is time for that to change," said Ghai, who has a UNESCO gold medal for peacekeeping and an Amnesty International Lifetime Achievement Award. "We have proved to be a model migrant community and we feel hurt that other groups are allowed to undertake their funeral rites while we are left out."

Hindu hopes have been raised by Justice Andrew Collins, head judge of the administrative court in the Queen's Bench Division who recently ruled that it is in the interest of the public to allow the legal application for Hindu cremations to go ahead.

"The issue is of some considerable importance to the Hindu community," declared Justice Collins.

The census of 2001 identified Hindus as Britain's third largest faith group after Christians, the largest, and Muslims.

Ekklesia adds: The main issue about Hindu ceremonies in relation to the UK law concerns ‘open air’ rites. The details of the funeral ceremonies (antyeshti samskara), which form the last of the samskaras (‘impressions’), vary according to Hindu tradition and place. Various rituals may take place around the dead body. These include the lighting of a lamp by the head of the body; pindas (rice balls) being placed in the coffin; water being sprinkled on the body; and a mala (necklace of wooden beads) and/or garlands of flowers being put around the dead person's neck.

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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