cremation Death + the Law

UK Hindu Man is Burning Down the House

Hindu Wins Northumberland Funeral Pyre Battle
BBC News (February 10, 2010)

Hindu Man Wins Court Battle for Open-Air Cremation Pyre
Matthew Taylor The Guardian (February 10, 2010)

It has been a big week for cremation in the UK. On Wednesday, Davender Ghai, a 71-year old Hindu man from Newcastle won a landmark court case on Appeal. The Ghai case is fairly straightforward: when he dies, he wants to be cremated on an open air pyre, as opposed to inside an industrial grade crematorium furnace. Mr. Ghai is a devout Hindu so his request is grounded in religious reasons.

When Mr. Ghai first made the request in 2006, he was told ‘No’ by Newcastle officials. He then took his case to the UK Courts and kept losing until this most recent decision.

I am providing an extremely rushed explanation of the case. Burning through it, you might say. The Guardian and BBC News articles at the top explain the case history. I also wrote about Mr. Ghai’s case a few weeks ago on the Death Reference Desk.

So let’s skip ahead to why the Ghai case is important. Two important questions were pondered by the Appeals Court: 1.) What is a building, as stipulated in the 1902 Cremation Act? And, 2.) Does the mere thought of an open air pyre cause the general public mental anguish?

In a nutshell, Davender Ghai agreed to a pyre enclosed by four walls (with no ceiling) and his lawyers demonstrated that his request didn’t cause the general public mental angst. Indeed, it seems to me that this form of ‘natural cremation’ (a term cleverly invented by Mr. Ghai’s legal team) will have a huge appeal to all the natural and green burial people in the UK. How that gets managed is an entirely different question, since Mr. Ghai made his request based upon religious reasons.

More than anything, this case demonstrates that supposedly immutable death laws can be challenged and changed to encompass the world’s religions. And in the case of Mr. Ghai, his request faithfully follows the law.

Watch this video to see Devander’s Ghai’s happiness with the decision. I have never been happier for an individual’s eventual death…

Video: Devout Hindu wins funeral pyre fight – Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

2 replies on “UK Hindu Man is Burning Down the House”

Hi there. I am a trustee of The Natural Death Centre and we supported Baba Ghai’s challenge. You are right; it meshes nicely with the natural death and green burial movement. Go to our website, and go to the section marked Inovations and Politics where you can see the letter of support we sent.

Ru: Thanks so much for your note. I’ll give the letter of support a read. I really appreciate your feedback on this story. It’s a big court case and I have been following it closely.

All the best.

— JT.

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