Hindus upset by ban on open-air cremation after covid19 deaths

File photo by Sureash Cholai
File photo by Sureash Cholai

UPSET by the restrictions disallowing open-air pyre cremation of people who have died from covid19, the Hindu community is appealing to Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and CMO Dr Roshan Parasram to reconsider.

Attorney Dinesh Rambally, who is the Chaguanas West MP, has written to both men, drawing attention to the sacredness of the traditional Hindu rituals.

He said the Hindu community has surrendered the importance of a live fire for the rituals, although indoor cremations have been allowed.

He wrote, “Mr Minister and Dr Parasram, I wish to request that you revisit this aspect of the protocols and allow for the open pyre cremations for the covid 19 victims.

“I wish to invite you to seriously reconsider this regulation prohibiting open pyre cremations, as disenchantment is growing within the Hindu community.”

He also asked them to provide reasons, when the World Health Organization (WHO) safety standard procedure says the remains of covid19 victims can be buried or cremated as a matter of cultural choice and available resources.

Rambally said while he is aware the guidelines are extracted from international norms, open-pyre cremations are unique to few countries in the world, and one must be mindful of the different cultural norms in those countries from which guidance is sought.

“To follow blindly is to ignore the cultural and religious needs of our people. It seems only reasonable that as a nation we ought to be self-reliant in our thinking and more sensitive to the needs of the Hindu community.”

He said the concern was not over being prevented from conducting rites in the usual way, "but with the arbitrary imposition of a mandatory use of an indoor crematorium, instead of an open pyre."

He said this was "financially devastating" for families.

Rambally said Hindu final rites are multi-faceted and last for approximately 12 or more days.

“These rites are amongst the most stringent of Hindu practices as they are designed to have enduring influence both on the family of the deceased, and the deceased himself.

“The disposing of the dead in the Hindu tradition is a highly significant and spiritually charged exercise. Death rites inform the transition from this birth to the next. Yet, in a pandemic, much had to be adjusted. “

Thus far, he said, the Hindu community has willingly abided by all the covid19 regulations, modifying such rituals as the shaving ceremony, which is no longer carried out by natural watercourses such as rivers.

“Also, we have restricted our contact with the corpse by omitting to do ‘aarti’ or put flowers on it, as would have been customary.

“Many of the post-cremation rites have also been suspended by many families either because of financial inability or because the family had multiple members dying of covid19 disease and were unable to cope. We all appreciate that this is a trying time like no other.”

So, he said, he believed the Hindu community's compliance with covid19 protocols has been exemplary.

But the problem, which he said had affected his own constituents many times, was that every time a body was sent to the crematorium, it cost the familyan extra $8,000-$10,000. Where more than one family member had died from covid, financial hardship has resulted, he said. .

He acknowledged " the Ministry of Health’s recognition that we ought to balance the rights of the family with the risk of exposure to infection.”

But in such a balancing act, he said, the WHO guidance would be useful.

Rambally said he has consulted extensively with religious organisations, pundits and ordinary citizens, “and Hindus are still prepared to omit home-based ceremonies and viewings for covid 19 victims.”

He suggested if open pyres were allowed, they were also prepared to put the body in an unopened body bag to avoid physical contact with mourners.

“We are even prepared to have specified, government-monitored days for open-air pyres, as we remain committed to abiding with national protocols.”


"Hindus upset by ban on open-air cremation after covid19 deaths"

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