Hindus challenge UK cremation laws
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.