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“Hindus’ funeral rites must be done with dignity”-Davender Ghai

Updated: May 22, 2010 3:22 pm

Seventy-year-old, UK-based Davender Ghai is a man with mission. And his mission is noble, i.e. the funeral rites of Hindus in the United Kingdom must be carried out with full dignity. For the last four years, Ghai had been fighting a legal battle with the British government for his right to be cremated in the open, which is prohibited in the UK under 1902 Cremation Act. Recently he was in Delhi to gain moral support on the issue from people of India. He spoke to Uday India correspondent Vaishali Tanwar in an exclusive interview on this issue. Excerpts:

What is the motive behind your coming to India?

I have come here not to collect funds, even though I have spent over six million rupees for the fight, but to seek the moral support from my countrymen. Though I have succeeded in obtaining a landmark judgment from Britain’s court granting me the right to be cremated after death in an “open-air funeral pyre”, I am still struggling for the implementation of the order. It is worth mentioning that an open-air cremation anywhere outside a crematorium is prohibited in the United Kingdom. The people of Hindu community in Britain have no other choice but to conduct funeral rites of their dear ones in “Chapels of Rest” and wait for about a week before disposing of bodies in gas and electric crematoriums in multiples of threes and fours. And after the process one does not know which ash belongs to whom.

            Even Islamic Republic of Pakistan has permitted open-air cremation sites. In a recent example, the Pakistan minorities (Hindus) were granted land by Waqf Board at Lahore Bund Road for a cremation ground. It is to be noted that in November 2005, on my request, the construction of a cremation ground at Bund Road, Lahore, was sanctioned by the Government of Punjab. But on the other hand, the British government is treading the path slowly on the issue. The British authorities are dilly-dallying with the court order in the hope that I would die and the campaign for an open-air-cremation pyre shall come to a grinding halt afterwards. So I want the people should support me, so that the implementation can take place as soon as possible.

What prompted you to carry on the battle further?

My father made a wish for an open-air cremation and I was very much inspired by Rajiv Gandhi’s will in which he put forward his cremation desire. But neither the British government nor anybody else helped me in fulfilling my father’s wish. I was devastated and decided that I would fight till my last breath to earn my right to be cremated in an open-air funeral pyre. Moreover, when Muslims and Jews can get their right to choose their place of last rites, why cannot the Hindus and Sikhs of UK? I don’t want Hindus to be burnt in gas chambers. The funeral rites of Hindus must be done with dignity.

Are you seeking any support from any political party, as Mr Vijay Jolly is supporting you?

I am meeting the leaders of various religious, political and social organisations as well as the government officials in New Delhi to seek their support for this cause. I have already met Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and plan to meet Union External Affairs Minister SM Krishna to take up the matter with his British counterpart in London for open-air funeral pyres for Hindus and Sikhs in the UK.

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