Lawyers representing members of the Hindu community are calling on government to reconsider its position on the use of open pyres, as it relates to Hindus and their rights to cremate their deceased in such a way.
In a letter to Health Minister Terrance Deyalsingh and Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram, attorney Kiel Taklalsingh along with Stefan Ramkissoon and Dinesh Rambally, said they were acting on behalf of their client, Pundit Navin Omadath Maharaj, a member of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), who is authorized to preside over and conduct various Hindu ceremonies and rituals.
The attorneys, in their letter, called on Deyalsingh and Parasram to reconsider and/or reverse the policy in relation to the mandatory use of crematoriums and permit COVID-19 victims to be cremated in an open pyre, as applicable, and with the attendant public health measures.
They said their client is often called upon to preside over the “Antyeshti Sanskaar” or the final rites of Hindus which involves, among other things, the cremation of the deceased.
The attorneys said their client understands and appreciates the need to ensure proper protocols and procedures are put in place for the disposal of dead bodies during the pandemic.
However, the attorneys said their client does not agree that a total prohibition of open-air cremations is “reasonable, justified or proportionate” given the requirement of Hindus to cremate their dead as a part of their constitutional right to practice their religion.
“The total prohibition and indeed the entire policy document published by the Ministry of Health is bereft of any consideration for the important religious significance of cremations by Hindus or the escalation of cost associated with the forced use of indoor crematoriums,” the letter outlined.
The attorneys said there seems to be “no good or justifiable reason” why open-air cremations cannot be conducted within the ambit of existing protocols, such as allowing no more than five people to attend, or where measures such as the encasing of the body within a body bag thereby preventing mourners from touching the body can be implemented.
The letter noted, “Implementation of basic common-sense measures can obviate any risk of transmission. It is to be noted that the World Health Organisation, being the sole authority on which local policies appear to be made, has no such restriction on open pyres, and, in fact, it has recommended certain measures to be adopted in such open-air cremations.”
The attorneys are also requesting that they be furnished with the reasons for the continued decision to maintain the policy and/or guidance regarding the absolute prohibition of open-air cremations.
“Without such reasons or scientific justification, our client would be forced to conclude that you have acted irrationally and/or without any rational basis in promulgating the said policy.
“Further, the failure to provide us with such reasons and/or justification would also lead to the inference that the said guidance is disproportionate, given its interference with Constitutional rights and freedoms in that there was no genuine consideration of less intrusive measures.”