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Hindus demand open-air funeral pyres at Australian cemeteries so Indian immigrants can cremate their dead “traditionally”

Hindus are pushing for Australian cemeteries to allow open-air funeral pyres so the growing number of Indian immigrants can cremate their dead like they do in their home country.

Representatives from Australia’s largest Hindu temple, Sri Dugas in Melton on the outskirts of Melbourne, have asked for space at a new cemetery where members of the Indian community can burn the bodies of their loved ones on outdoor wooden pyres, in accordance with religious tradition.

Temple vice-president Gurpreet Verma told The Age allowing the custom in Australia would give “dignity to family members” and pointed out that Hinduism is now the country’s fastest growing religion.

“Many individuals are desperate. Most people as of today in this situation, they send the body back to India for the final act because they want to do proper Hindu rituals,” he said.

But Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust boss Andrew Eriksen said the proposal would not be considered for at least a decade, and pointed out that the new Harkness Cemetery, due to open in 2026, would be non-traditional and focused on environmental sustainability.

He noted concerns about emissions and the consumption of wood and said “it’s far too early to even contemplate that for this site”.

A traditional Hindu funeral pyre uses up to 600kg of timber and burns for six hours. The custom is responsible for the consumption of 50 to 60 million trees a year in India while sending 8 million tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Local resident and Hindu lobbyist Vivek Sharma said it was “culturally demeaning” for Harkness Cemetery not to consider the proposal, but MP for Melton Steve McGhie said the would first need to be discussed within his community.

“Into the future, the Indian community is going to be the biggest community in Melton, so the cultural issues will have to be addressed, not only for the Indians but for other cultural groups,” he said.

At the time of the 2021 Census 8% of Melton’s population was born in India.

Indians are the fastest-growing immigrant group in Australia, and according to the 2021 Census there are more than 784,000 people with Indian ancestry – 3.1% of the population – a 400% increase over the past 20 years.

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