LONDON // A devout Hindu has lost his battle to legalise open-air funeral pyres in Britain. Davender Ghai, 70, had applied to the High Court in London for the right to have his body burnt on an open fire after his death. If successful, the ruling would have set a precedent for 560,000 Hindus living in the UK, many of whom believe that open-air pyres are the only suitable form of cremation. At present, flying bodies back to India is the only way they can fulfil what they regard as a religious obligation.
However, Mr Ghai's bid to overturn a ban on funeral pyres by his local council in Newcastle failed in the High Court on Friday. Mr Justice Cranston, the judge, ruled that pyres were prohibited by law and said the ban was justified. He accepted the government's argument that people might be "upset and offended" by pyres and would "find it abhorrent that human remains were being burned in this way". The judge added that it was a difficult and sensitive issue but said that, if the current ban were to be lifted, it should be done through the democratic, political process, not the courts.
However, he gave Mr Ghai, founder of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society, permission to take his case to the Court of Appeal. "I don't think there is a real prospect of success, but it seems to me sufficiently a matter of public importance for me to give permission to appeal," the judge said. Mr Ghai had argued before the court that, as a devout Hindu, he regarded an open-air pyre as essential to a "good death" and the release of his spirit into the afterlife. In a statement after the judgment, Mr Ghai said: "I will not deny my claim is provocative, least of all in a nation as notoriously squeamish towards death as our own.
"However, I honestly do not believe natural cremation grounds would offend public decency, as long as they were discreet, designated sites far from urban and residential areas." Speaking from India, where he is currently undergoing medical treatment, Mr Ghai added: "I respect the decision of the court but, for me, this is quite literally a matter of life and death. "I shall appeal until the very end, in the faith that my dying wish will not go unheard. A matter of such magnitude deserves to be heard by the highest courts in our land and I shall not tire until all legal avenues are exhausted.
"This is the beginning, not the end. I have been pitted against the might of the ministry of justice and Newcastle City Council, but I take solace from the fact that, with faith, a David like me can ultimately overcome the Goliath of state machinery." A spokesman for Newcastle City Council said that the authority was "pleased" with the decision. firstname.lastname@example.org