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File Photo: Shore of the Peace cremation site, South Oropouche.

A Pundit has renewed the call, on behalf of the Hindu community, for the resumption of cremations according to Hindu rites.

At present, open-air pyre cremations are not allowed for those who have died from COVID-19, as a safety measure.  Several legal challenges have been mounted against the State to have open-air pyre cremations re-established. In addition, some local medical experts have indicated that very little of the virus is transmitted from a corpse and noted that there is no greater risk of a person becoming infected with COVID-19 at an open-pyre cremation, as opposed to an indoor cremation.

In an open letter to Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh MP, the spiritual leader of the Satya Anand Ashram in Aranguez, Pundit Satyanand Maharaj, points out that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said open air cremations do not pose a risk for additional COVID-19 infections.

“Latest reports inform us that open air cremations, according to the WHO—please see the Interim Guidance 24th March 2020 Infection Management of a Dead Body—do not pose a threat or additional risk of COVID infections,” the pundit writes.

Pundit Maharaj is urging Minister Deyalsingh to address the issue of open-air pyre cremations with speed, since it is proving “a distraction from the fight against COVID 19”.

“I therefore recommend that Hindus and other groups that cremate in open air be allowed to return to our traditional practices,” he advises the Minister in his letter.

The Hindu leader points out that because the current restrictions on their funerial rites:

“Hindus have been made to pay up to 400% more for cremations in crematoriums. Whereas a funeral would have cost seven to eight thousand dollars, the price now ranges from $25,000 to $35,000.”

He added: “In an economy where people have lost their jobs, they are now forced to bury our dead, which is not in keeping with [Hindu] religious practices. In addition, some unscrupulous funeral homes are taking advantage of the dead by picking the pockets of the living.”

According to Pundit Maharaj, this is a matter of great concern to the Hindu community, who are hurt over their “inability to cremate our dead according to our ancient practices”.  He notes the legal challenges already mounted, and hints that more lawsuits may be brought before the courts.