Kamla to PM, AG: Review open-air pyre policy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday


Three bodies burn on open-air pyres at the Caroni Cremation Site. (FILE PHOTO)

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar wants the Government and the Attorney General to rethink their policy on open-air pyre cremation.

Persad-Bissessar said on Monday night, Government’s decision to ban such cremations is “open, clear and square discrimination” against the Hindu community.

Similarly, she said, so is the continuing closure of ponds, streams and rivers, which are used by both Hindus and Spiritual Baptists for religious purposes.

She said the ban not only denies Hindus the exercise of this religious tradition, but adds to the funeral expenses of families already grieving the loss of a loved one.

Former education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh also advocated for the late opening of beaches, which are open at present between 5 am and 12 noon, and for Hindus to have the right to cremate relatives in a decent and appropriate manner.

With bodies piling up as a result of covid19 deaths, over 3,000 to date, the waiting period is lengthened, causing additional costs for cold storage before disposal.

The Maha Sabha, individuals and religious organisations have been advocating for the reversal of the ban. Government has declared this form of cremation will not be allowed for those who were covid19-positive when they died.

Legal proceedings have already been initiated to challenge the process, on the basis that the World Health Organization (WHO) never made any such declaration but encouraged cultural and religious traditions be observed in disposing the dead.

Speaking on the United National Congress (UNC) Virtual Report platform on Monday night, Persad-Bissessar said this is a serious matter.

She said instead of a minimum cost of under $10,000 to cremate a body according to Hindu tradition, it now costs between $30,000 and $40,000for an indoor cremation.

“Funeral homes never had it so good. Making real money.”

She said the suggestion that open-air pyre cremation can spread covid19 is not a scientific finding of the WHO, but the fallacy of the PNM Government,which is adamant it is following the science in the management of this disease.

It is a tradition, she said, which has been observed by Hindus since they first set foot on this land centuries ago.

She said this continuing ban is only adding to the stress and trauma of poor families.

She called on AG Faris Al-Rawi “to have a heart,” saying while such matters may take years before finalisation in court, he should consider how many families are suffering through this act of discrimination

Instead of looking for loopholes to substantiate Government’s action, he should consider reviewing the policy, Persad-Bissessar said.