British Hindus help UK government to update crematoria facilities

Rupanjana Dutta Wednesday 10th April 2019 09:59 EDT

A package of measures to update crematoria to reflect the needs of different cultures and faiths in modern Britain has been announced on Monday 8 May. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government want to revise national guidance for crematoria provisions and facilities, especially on the siting and design of crematoria, subject to further consultations and finally offer support to community groups interested in operating their own crematoria or associated facilities.

Faith Minister Lord Bourne has written to local authorities to inform that all reasonable steps should be taken to allow the needs of those with different faiths to be met in public buildings, encourage providers to be more transparent about their services, and have appropriate staff training to understand different faith requirements.

The announcement follows the review of crematoria provision and facilities, where the Government received around 150 responses, most from Hindu community as well as from many other faiths and belief groups. The plan will help make sure communities of different faiths have facilities that are fit for purpose and sensitive to their needs. 

The review into the size and provision of crematoria facilities was announced in autumn 2015, with a formal review published alongside the 2016 March Budget. Out of the 150 responses the government received, 110 provided statistical information through the on-line survey. 43 of respondents were from the Hindu communities (particularly in North and West London and Leicester) but there were also representations from faith groups such as 5 from Sikhs and 2 from Jain background and other belief groups, as well as those with no faith. 

Issues highlighted during consultation

The responses highlighted several issues, in this order of priority- capacity of crematoria to accommodate large groups as well as problems with car parking; difficulties with the design of crematoria (for example, fixed seating or catafalque) and a lack of facilities to carry out specific rituals (including separate prayer rooms, washing facilities, a viewing room to witness the committal of the coffin or proximity to water); difficulties with booking slots, slots being too short and/or having to pay higher prices for weekends; the need for new crematoria, and/or travelling long distances to access a crematorium in specific localities and insensitive or inflexible iconography or other services, such as prayer books or music.

The majority of respondents commented on access to crematoria in specific localities. 35 out of 48 providers responded to the question and 23% (8 respondents) stated that they considered there was a need for new crematoria in their area. 44 users also answered this question, with 68% (30 respondents) indicating that they considered there was a need for new crematoria in their area.

Some felt that there was good access to crematoria locally. For example a Sikh respondent, from Keighley, West Yorkshire said, “There have not been any problems in accessing any crematoria. This is partly as members of the faith group are reasonably well versed in accessing the number of crematoria that friend/ families have used before and secondly the majority of the Sikh temples have a Board Management and members know (from previous experience) which funeral directors to approach.”

Others highlighted concerns regarding slots, particularly in Leicestershire and North-West London where there are large Hindu, Sikh and Jain populations. Federation of Hindu and Jain Communities, Leicestershire said, “At times the community have to book and make arrangements to travel to Loughborough or Nuneaton. It is difficult to find adequate slots for cremations in Leicester. These occur on regular basis and the communities have to wait for days to cremate their loved ones thus causing a lot of stress and anxiety.”

73 out of 103 faith or other community groups responded to the question of the problem with the size of the crematorium. 71% (52 respondents) reported that they had experienced problems. Most respondents highlighted that crematoria struggle to accommodate the large numbers of mourners present at Hindu, Sikh and Jain funerals. However, concerns about space were not just restricted to the areas of high Hindu, Sikh and Jain populations who responded to questions on access to crematoria; one Sikh respondent highlighted similar concerns at crematoria in Yorkshire and the North East.

Several respondents highlighted that there are no crematoria facilities in Harrow and those users need to travel to either Hendon or Golders Green. Some respondents argued that there was a need for a new crematoria in Hertfordshire to accommodate the Hindu, Sikh and Jain population and their typically higher number of mourners. This was endorsed by the Institute of Jainology who claimed that people in London need to travel long distances and therefore have to allocate a full day to attend the ceremony if it is scheduled for the middle of the day. More broadly, respondents highlighted that in rural areas, a family’s choice for cremation may involve a long journey.

Faith Minister, Lord Bourne said, “Cremations have become more and more common. This is why it is vital that there are high quality crematoria that respect cultural and religious traditions of all faiths and beliefs, and those of no faith.

“This package of measures will make sure that local authorities and providers offer the appropriate facilities that reflect the communities they serve.”

Cremations have become more and more common. In 2017 there were 467,748 cremations representing 77.05% of all deaths, with each crematorium having an average of 1,607 cremations in 2017.

Community reaction to the consultation

Anil Bhanot, Founding Member, Hindu Council UK said, “We welcome the Government’s decision to upgrade the Crematoria provisions and I’d like to thank the Faiths unit under Lord Bourne for seeing this long standing issue through. For Hindus, Jains and Sikhs cremation of the body with the right and proper ceremonial prayers is of utmost importance, to satisfy our belief in the soul’s journey to heaven and then at the appropriate time its reincarnation into another body. Reincarnation requires that the dead body is cremated and its ashes returned to earth washed through water, primarily so that the soul bears no attachment to its past body and is absolutely free to journey onwards and reincarnate into a new body.

“As Hindus we only bury a body where either the soul has not yet developed an attachment to, as in the case of a baby, or where the soul has transcended all material attachment, as in the case of an enlightened Sadhu. For the vast majority of Hindus cremation and its associated ceremonies represent the ultimate 16th stage of life, the Antam Sanskaar, and that is why people coming to pay their final respects can run into several hundreds.

“Thus the time slots at Crematoria definitely need to be extended to accommodate larger ceremonies, in extended chapels to seat larger congregations and with water facilities to wash as a minimum. Ponds and Streams running through would be an added advantage for the Ashes immersing ceremonies.”

Ishwar Tailor,Vice President, Gujarat Hindu Society told Asian Voice, “I think we have one or two Asian funeral directors like Chandu Tailor providing services not available everywhere. In remote places we need to have a standards- for example in Preston, English funeral directors need to understand how the Hindu rituals are done, so they are seeking guidance from the community. I think the community is guiding them but we dont have the same facilities in each town.It's important that the Hindu community groups assist the local funeral directors, especially where there are no Asian ones- like how to help take ashes to India. These consultation could help to create awareness for mainstream funeral directors UK-wide.”

However not everybody has been aware of the government's consultations and some feel disgruntled to be at the helm of such issues, yet be left out during these important engagements. Vinod Popat, Trustee of Shantidham, who has been campaigning for a Hindu crematorium in Leicestershire, told the newsweekly, “The government has not consulted with Shantidham on this matter. They know the work we are doing, but nobody consulted us nor I know of anyone who have been consulted in Leicester.”

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