Saturday, September 06, 2008

Hindus challenge UK cremation laws

The Guardian reports that a Hindu man, on behalf of up to a million others, is seeking the intervention of the courts to overturn a ban on open-air cremations. He not only demands the ‘right’ to an open-air cremation when he dies, but also demands the ‘right’ to practise ‘ancient religious rituals’.

It comes as no surprise that lawyers acting on behalf of Davender Kumar Ghai are invoking Human Rights legislation to make their case. They argue that ‘open-air pyres fall outside the 1902 Cremation Act, which regulates what happens inside a crematorium, which is defined as "any building fitted with appliances for the purpose of burning human remains". The burning of a human body in the open air is an offence only if it causes a public nuisance, which would be avoided because the sites would be in secluded locations.’

This is a curious case, and likely to yield a judgement based on ignorance. There is indeed an Indic requirement to cremate the dead, but it is tradition, not religion, which demands it. And the practice is by no means universal in India. The courts will be faced with the reality that in India there is no distinct word for ‘religion’; it is all culture, and therefore the two are synonymous. Post-Enlightenment Western courts of law will have no grasp of the complexities of Indic philosophy, which is foundationally pantheistic, and so anything that is a cultural manifestation for Hindus may also be adduced as religious.

In many parts of India, cremations are of necessity open-air. But there is no ‘Word of God’ to stipulate this. Samsara requires that the atman be purged in preparation for the next life, but the fate of the carcase is immaterial. The fire has simply come to symbolise the purging.

Cranmer covered a similar story two years ago, and it is evident that there is now a concerted effort to overturn UK law – passed by Parliament to ensure good hygiene and public health - in order to accommodate minority ethnic sensitivities. But where will this stop? If permission is granted to burn bodies in fields, why not light funeral pyres and float them down a stream? And when sufficient numbers of these have established a ritualistic precedent, why not declare the Thames a sacred river? And then let us have pilgrimage to its shores, and limit access to those who revere its preternatural flow to moksha.

And one wonders if, like helmet-less Sikhs on motorbikes or those who are permitted to carry knives in public, open-air cremation will be an exemption made for Hindus only. For, surely, the Sikhs will follow, and then the Buddhists, and then sundry Pagans, and (frankly) Cranmer would rather attend such an event for a Christian than endure the impersonal indignities of the 30-minute cremation factory. As is observed: ‘An open-air pyre allows you to make it an all-day event, where you can eat, drink and cry and make it a family occasion’.

Significantly, the cost of such an open-air pyre is likely to be around £500, while traditional cremation costs at least £2,000. By that criterion alone, Cranmer can see people of all faiths queueing to cremate their dead in Farmer Giles’ field. He just wonders what happens to the unburned bits of bone or rotting flesh which are not consumed, for the heat of a pyre is nowhere near that of the crematorium furnace.

Perhaps they can be placed on top of a Tower of Silence for the vultures to pick at.

That will be a step towards granting the Zoroastrians their human rights.

27 Comments:

Anonymous len said...

What about me ,I rather fancy a viking funeral with a longboat set on fire with all my posessions on it!

6 September 2008 at 10:30  
Blogger mckenzie said...

We seem to be caught up in a polar shift of sensibilities. We have about faced on the parade square of human progress and seem all too ready to march backwards along the long arduous road which brought us to our present destination.

Human societies pass through successive stages of birth, growth, development, decay and death.

Giambattista Vico, 1668-1744

It is interesting to note that every civilization advanced to a certain point and then began to decline. The very merits which gave it pre-eminence prevented its further development. Success in meeting certain challenges is based on specialized abilities. When challenges of a different kind emerge, the talents that had been useful before become impediments if those who possess them are unable to let go of their fixed patterns of thought and action in order to meet the challenges with fresh vitality. The decay of civilisations is characterized by such cultural failure.

When there is absence of self-observation, relationships bind and stultify a person’s outlook and understanding. All problems arise from a mind unaware of itself. Attachment to family or community, to wife or child, is often a barrier shutting out wider affinities. Sensitivity of feeling, which is essential for cultural development, is not enhanced by attachments. The human being becomes primitive or tribal when his attachments imprison him within a narrow circle. Refined forms of tribalism are concealed behind plausible fronts, adding to the conflicts in the world and even the community. When sensitiveness is free from barriers it manifests itself in relation to everything - to people, to animals, to the earth itself. In very thought, word and action, culture makes its presence or absence felt.

Culture implies a right perception of one’s own role and relationship with events, with people, and with the complexity which is life, and acting according to that perception with dignity and refinement. It is the conscious awareness of relationship and values. The cultured man mirrors values in his every thought and word and in his deportment.

The network of human relationships is complex and subtle. Relationship embraces not only external contacts with other human beings but also unarticulated attitudes of affection or animosity, of fears, ambiguities, and so forth, and the numerous concealed motives which do not always find expression. Relationship, being diverse, comprises man’s response to nature, to trees, animals, the flowing waters, the mountain ranges, the earth, sky and stars. Even more significant are man’s relationships with his ideas and beliefs, his likes and dislikes - in other words, with the contents of his own mind. His relationship to himself to a great extent conditions his other relationships. Frustration within obviously vitiates his actions in respect of others. His vision becomes clouded. Therefore it is of vital importance that a person should be aware of his own responses and reactions.

To quote de Chardin, ‘The being who is the object of his own reflection, in consequence of that very doubling back upon himself, becomes in a flash able to raise himself into a new sphere.'

6 September 2008 at 11:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aw, I was hoping to interject my hopes for a Zoroastrian funeral, but you stuck it in at the end!
I think the solution to the Hindu gentleman's concern is simple. He should save up (with the Co-op or Help the Aged, perhaps) to have his remains repatriated to Bharat. This would also permit the furtherance of his real agenda, the promotion of sati for his widow. Currently this is still too difficult to do in England, owing to our strange, racist requirement that widows being cremated must be dead first.
Then again, if he fears his atma may not escape through a crematorium chimney, perhaps his pandit can counsel him against superstitious ideas. But surely it is wrong for such a devout believer to be living in such an unclean land as England in the first place, where so many eat meat, neglect puja and don't observe proper caste distinctions?
I understand Your Grace's deep interest in the matter, as you have yourself undergone a public cremation.

6 September 2008 at 12:30  
Blogger ENGLISHMAN said...

When this is allowed,shall we have agouri living on the banks of the rivers and gymnosophists prowling the woods?why come to a first world country to live in a third world manner.why do we have to embrace every primitive custom the victims wish to inflict upon us,if they want to practice thier tribal culture then the place of its origin is the place to do so,not here.

6 September 2008 at 13:36  
Blogger Man in a Shed said...

Down here in Woking we have a Zoroastrian grave yard and the only vultures are the Lib Dem canvassers.

But then, once there was a plan to bury the dead of the whole country in Woking (well Brookwood) and there were special coffin trains from London that left from their own Harry Potter type platform at Waterloo.

There were Two stations at 'the end of the line' for conformists and non-conformists.

Also Britain's first crematorium is in Woking at St Johns. The vicar of St Johns was leading the protest to stop the practice.

6 September 2008 at 14:01  
Blogger Miss Snuffleupagus said...

One of my pupils did his work experience in a crematorium last year. He helped to 'mash up' the ashes - as apparently they come out in clumps - and retrieve the nails and other bits of metal from teeth or joints etc. Ha!

I suppose somebody has to do these kinds of jobs...

6 September 2008 at 14:02  
Blogger Holy Smoke said...

500 vs 2,000 I don't think the price difference will last. I can see a whole new business being created to serve those wanting a pyre. First you will need to a hire a pyre expert. His job will include designing a well engineered pyre that will burn properly. He will also need to know the right type of wood to get the right heat level for the pyre. Then he will need to secure a permit to allow open burning. There will also be the need to have a fire truck and ambulance on standby in case the pyre party runs amok. Surly a pyre party will cost 100,000

6 September 2008 at 15:07  
Blogger dizzyfatplonka said...

"Shamans worship heaven and earth. They go up mountains to be close to one God or several gods. And they have a special relationship with death. Though many expeditions have been launched to find Genghis Khan's grave, none have found his bones or coffin. It's possible that he was not buried or cremated, and that his corpse became animal fodder in the funeral rite of "sky-burial," as is common among Zoroastrians, Tibetans and Mongolians."

That would suite me fine because whether it be Moses up a mountain recieving the Ten Commandments or
Jonah in the belly of a Whale there is so much in the Bible that screams out to me that the roots of Christianity are Shamanic in origin.

Sorry for commiting the herecy of the century on your Graces blog but Ghengis parents where nestorian christians!

6 September 2008 at 15:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

living up to your name then!

6 September 2008 at 15:47  
Blogger dizzyfatplonka said...

living up to your name then!

Would that be one of those self evident facts that require no debate. Just for everyone to beleive you are in the right and are always in the right?

6 September 2008 at 17:22  
Anonymous the recusant said...

I think the Government should seek the advice of a suitably qualified expert to advise them on this and cannot think of anyone more qualified than Your Grace to offer his personal experiences of open-air pyres!

6 September 2008 at 17:45  
Anonymous an imperialist said...

Sati to follow?

One is reminded of the admirable General Napier's fine words: "You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

6 September 2008 at 17:59  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Recusant,

That was uncalled for.

Though, frankly, he is rather cold on this bleak and miserable day, and is considering lighting a comforting log fire to accompany his claret.

6 September 2008 at 18:41  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand what any of them are doing here. The Subcontinent is big, rich, beautiful, and full of people just like them. They must have been happy there, and should go back.

When I used to go there, I thought it was wonderful - except for the people, their pollution, and its stench. I assume they miss that, and haven't built up enough filth here (though my nose says its plenty).

Since that's such hard work, and if they can't make it back to Pakistan and India - maybe europe would be more to their taste...more what they're used to, and home to 'laws' in their favour.

6 September 2008 at 19:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous at 12:30....

Getting a dead widow shouldn't be a problem. That can always be arranged through compatriots running an NHS ward or office.

Regards: A Little Mouse

6 September 2008 at 19:59  
Blogger BrianSJ said...

Well, now I can get a quote from the Co-op for a burning long boat.

6 September 2008 at 20:05  
Blogger Homophobic Horse said...

Hindu's don't threaten to kill us, so I'm okay with this one. I don't think it's a big deal.

6 September 2008 at 20:47  
Anonymous billy said...

Are those hindus in the picture suffering from head injuries, or are they sikhs?

6 September 2008 at 21:09  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Billy,

It is not uncommon for Hindus to wear turbans at formal occasions like Sacred Thread ceremonies, weddings or funerals.

6 September 2008 at 22:15  
Anonymous oiznop said...

"Hindu's don't threaten to kill us, so I'm okay with this one. I don't think it's a big deal."

Not here...yet, but think of the persecuted Christians of India:

http://timesonline.typepad.com/faith/2008/09/murderous-viole.html

6 September 2008 at 22:40  
Blogger dizzyfatplonka said...

It is the Conservative way to uphold traditional values your Grace the pickle you are now in is due to allowing them to become British in the first place.

6 September 2008 at 23:22  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come to think of it, it might be true that we are mostly descended from 'Celts', which means that newcomers should understand the dangers of making us revert to primitive and pre-Christian practices: sauce for the goose, you know? Celts were rather passionate about asserting their rights and holding on to their territory.

Written records and archeology suggest, of course, that they believed in human sacrifice - that was before symbolism took over.

I also seem to recall that they went naked into battle; and whether this were horrifying or hilarious for those who hate whities, the initial eyeful would be disarming in summer, at least. Perhaps it would merge with the landscape in winter.

Another predilection was for decapitating the enemies of said Celts and preserving the heads: based on a religious belief that they thereby harnessed the power of the deceased. That would now apply regardless of turbans, I suppose.

And the women weren't wallflowers, either...

At some stage they got mixed up in the Beowulf stuff and the funeral
pyres - it went on for a while. I mean, not only His Grace, but what about Bonfire Night...'Penny for the Guy'!

Furthermore, we've also burnt piles and piles of poor helpless animals in recent years. Anyone who noticed what that smelled like might understand those who've opted for cleaner practices in general.

Modern foreigners just don't know a decent lifestyle when they see it.

6 September 2008 at 23:56  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

doesnt look very eco friendly , how many tonnes of wood per week will be needed ??

7 September 2008 at 00:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go here
http://www.wordinfo.info/words/index/info/view_unit/2640/?letter=C&spage=26
For another view on the subject.
Jobrag

7 September 2008 at 06:57  
Blogger dizzyfatplonka said...

hear o israel said...
"doesnt look very eco friendly , how many tonnes of wood per week will be needed ??"

Already thought of a solution for we could offset those carbon emmissions by allowing Sadhus to perform the Kumbha Mela in the river at Leicster, then nobody needs to polute the planet flying off to India for holidays.

They can find naked people covered in ashes right here on there own doorstep! ;-D

7 September 2008 at 08:21  
Anonymous billy said...

cranmer said...
Mr Billy,

It is not uncommon for Hindus to wear turbans at formal occasions like Sacred Thread ceremonies, weddings or funerals.

06 September 2008 22:15

Thank you, Your Grace, and the very full facial hair? Do they apply that for these ceremonies?
:0)

7 September 2008 at 22:20  
Blogger Simon Lamb said...

There is a fee for the cremation and a separate fee for the services of a funeral director. Your Grace conflates the 2. For example, Mortlake will charge the modest sum of £310 to cremate you (although they do insist on a coffin and want the law to be followed - 2 doctors have to complete the necessary paperwork (another £142)).
This is an old story - there is no real support for open air cremations and the Hindu Society criticised those who did it a couple of years ago. I recall the circumstances were unusual and it is unlikely to happen again. The police did investigate and it was a clear breach of the 1902 Cremation Act but it was thought politic to let matter rest.

8 September 2008 at 20:47  

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