A race relations organisation seeking permission from local authorities to hold open-air funerals for British Hindus and Sikhs lit a pyre of a dead animal to show that the ritual did not break any laws.
Gosforth based Anglo-Asian Friendship Society has been petitioning the Newcastle City Council to dedicate a piece of land outside the city where open-air funerals could be performed.
The society enacted the funeral over the weekend after its members felt their petition to the Council had not made much headway. The society believes that a loophole in the law enables them to hold the services but it is also prepared to take its battle to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.
Society president Davender Ghai lit the pyre-of an animal-on private land in the Newcastle council area, and the organisation declared that it would now go ahead with a human pyre for any Hindu or Sikh member who requested it.
At its office in Gosforth, nearly 80 people have put their name on a list requesting an open pyre. Reports say that a Channel 4 crew filmed the funeral of the animal and it will be shown later this month.
Ghai told The Journal: ?I did not light the pyre for publicity or to defy British values. I myself am British and have charitably served our country for over 20 years and expect respect for sincere religious belief, whether Hindu or any other.
We believe in inclusive societies and wanted to work hand in hand with the council but their apathy compelled us to take this stand.?
There is a dispute over the interpretation of the 1930 Cremation Act. Some believe that it banned any such funeral service but, according to legal adviser Andrew Bogan, open-air pyres do not fall under the definition of cremation.
If the pyres are on private, secluded land and cause no complaints or objections they are not breaking any law. The council should have no environmental concerns, Bogan said.
The organisation says that not only are 4,37,000 wooden coffins wastefully burnt each year but no threat was found when air and soil pollution was investigated after the mass burning of hundreds of cattle during the foot-and-mouth crisis.
According to the organisation, many Hindus and Sikhs are deeply offended by the use of gas-powered furnaces and many even take their relative'sbodies to India for cremation.
A council spokeswoman said that a meeting had been arranged between the society'smembers and Stephen Savage, head of public health and environmental protection at the Council.
Britain'sHindu body condemns Varanasi blasts
The umbrella organisation of British Hindus, Hindu Forum of Britain, condemned the series of blasts in the holy city of Varanasi that killed at least 14 people and injured about 60.
?It is most unfortunate that terrorism has reared its head once again in an attempt to divide the communities in India,? said Ramesh Kallidai, secretary general of Hindu Forum of Britain.
?The fact that they have targeted one of Hinduism'smost sacred cities seems to suggest they want to exploit communal tensions. Many British Hindus are deeply concerned about the developments in India and hope that people from all communities will remain united in defeating the terrorist agenda.?
Arjan Vekaria, chair of the Security Committee of the forum, said: ?It is important to allow the law to take its stance and for people not to react to this madness. We appeal to people of all communities to continue maintaining peace and friendship.?
The Forum noted in a press release that sectarian tensions had risen in Uttar Pradesh recently when four people died in riots in Lucknow on March 3.
The riots were allegedly triggered when traders were being forced to close their shops to protest against the US President George W. Bush'svisit.
(The writer is a UK-based journalist and can be contacted on [email protected])