It's not your funeral: guru's cremation hopes go up in smoke

A septuagenarian Hindu guru who wants to be cremated outdoors after he dies has vowed to continue his fight, after the High Court yesterday ruled that funeral pyres are illegal in Britain. Davender Kumar Ghai, 70, had travelled to the High Court to challenge a decision by Newcastle City Council which forbade his son Sanjay from cremating him outside.

Mr Ghai and his supporters had hoped to overturn the ruling by arguing that denying him a traditional funeral pyre contravened his right to practice religion freely under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But Mr Justice Cranston disagreed, stating that funeral pyres are not allowed under UK law and that the prohibition was "justified".

In his ruling, the judge said: "The Cremation Act 1902 and its attendant 2008 regulations are clear in their effect: the burning of human remains, other than in a crematorium, is a criminal offence. This effectively prohibits open- air funeral pyres."

Justice Cranston gave Mr Ghai permission to appeal against the ruling, which he has vowed to do. The Ugandan-born father-of-three is also willing to go to the European Court of Human Rights if his Court of Appeal case fails.

During the test case, Mr Ghai, who is seeking medical treatment in India, told the court of his wish to "die with dignity" and not be "bundled in a box". A devout Hindu guru who has a small but committed following of supporters across the country, Mr Ghai believes his soul will be fully released from his body if he is cremated on a traditional pyre, as commonly used by Hindus across South Asia. He fears an ordinary crematorium would force his soul to mingle with others and lead to a "bad death", adversely affecting his reincarnation.

Support for Mr Ghai's cause in the wider Hindu community was initially limited, with none of the major Hindu umbrella organisations throwing their weight behind his campaign. But in recent months, most of the main representative Hindu bodies have voiced some level of support for a change in the law, or a compromise. But Mr Justice Cranston, in his summing up, observed that "typically Hindus in this country" did not share Mr Ghai's belief in open-air pyres.

Mr Ghai's supporters believe that if funeral pyres became legal in the UK, many devout British Hindus would opt for an outdoor cremation rather than a mechanised crematorium. On the phone from Delhi yesterday, Mr Ghai said he was saddened by the ruling and upset that he had not been informed that verdict was due yesterday. He vowed to appeal the decision.

"I respect the decision of the Court but, for me, this is quite literally a matter of life and death," he said. "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."

During the judicial review, Newcastle City Council was also supported by the Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who suggested that those outside Britain's Hindu community would be "upset and offended" by funeral pyres and "find it abhorrent that human remains were being burnt in this way".

But Ramesh Kallidai, the secretary general of the Hindu Forum of Britain, one of the umbrella groups that supports Mr Ghai's bid, said Mr Straw's comments will have offended many Hindus. "I think that to suggest a practice which has been carried out for thousands of years and still is by 800 million Hindus in India is somehow "abhorrent" is insenstive and very unhelpful," he said. "No one, including Mr Ghai, has ever suggested doing outdoor cremations in public. They would be held in private just as the vast majority of funerals in India are."

Sacred fire: Hindu way of death

*Hindus believe the body is a temporary vessel for the soul. After death, a great deal of emphasis is placed on ensuring the soul leaves the body in the best possible way to aid its reincarnation. Hindus believe that agni, or sacred fire, is the only way to do this, but many fear that a modern crematorium leads to akal mrtyu (bad death) because the soul is forced to mingle with other deceased souls. Flying a relative's body back to South Asia for a traditional pyre is too costly for most British Hindus.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Ricky Gervais performs stand-up
people
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Teaching Assistant...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Automation Test Lead (C#, Selenium, SQL, XML, Web-Services)

£50000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Automation Tes...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering