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Hindus plead for the right to cremate their dead in Britain

Leaders of Britain’s Hindu community of more than 500 000 are asking to be given the same full cultural and religious freedoms enjoyed by other major religions in the United Kingdom, such as Christians, Muslims and Jews.

"We are asking for the right to cremate our dead in the way they have been cremated in India and other places for the last 4000 years," 31-year old Newcastle-born barrister Andrew Bogan said at the headquarters of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society in Newcastle, northeastern England. "The way Hindus cremate the dead is at the heart of our religion. We’ve been running a campaign for the last six months and at least there are signs that we’re getting somewhere."

London’s The Times newspaper reported on 10 April that Hindus may win the right to open-air cremations.

An attempt to establish the first approved site for the centuries old spiritual ceremonies, which Hindus say is a vital step in the re-incarnation process in Northumberland, northern England, was blocked in 2006 after a local authority ruled made it would breach cremation laws.

But in September the decision was challenged by Davender Kumar Ghai, 68, who says he dreads the thought of a local authority cremation authorised by the Cremation Act of 1902.

"It is time for that to change," said Ghai, who has a UNESCO gold medal for peacekeeping and an Amnesty International Lifetime Achievement Award. "We have proved to be a model migrant community and we feel hurt that other groups are allowed to undertake their funeral rites while we are left out."

Hindu hopes have been raised by Justice Andrew Collins, head judge of the administrative court in the Queen’s Bench Division who recently ruled that it is in the interest of the public to allow the legal application for Hindu cremations to go ahead.

"The issue is of some considerable importance to the Hindu community," declared Collins.

The census of 2001 identified Hindus as Britain’s third largest faith group after Christians, the largest, and Muslims.

(c) Ecumenical News International