Gewaan Ramkissoon

last rites: Relatives look on at the lit pyre of Gewaan Ramkissoon as the body was cremated yesterday at the Caroni Cremation site under Hindu rites. The family said they wish the Government would open up rivers and beaches so other families who lost loved ones can perform their final rites to the fullest. —Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

From left are Looking on are Husband and wife Navin and Aneisha Ramkissoon, nephew and uncle-in-law, right and center also Ramesh Ramkissoon cousin of Gewaan.

While Government has lifted the ban on open air cremations for Covid victims the protocols are still being worked out before this can take place. 

WHILE the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) has signalled its intention to withdraw a lawsuit against the State over the previous ban on open-pyre cremations for victims of Covid-19, this will not be the case in a separate claim brought by the daughter of one such victim.

Instead, attorneys representing the woman said they will continue to pursue their clients’ case, given that her constitutional rights were infringed when she was forced to cremate her father at a funeral agency as opposed to the Waterloo Cremation site as he had requested prior to his death.

On Thursday evening, the Office of the Attorney General announced that the ban on open-pyre cremations for those who died of the virus had been lifted.

Even though following the announcement, the SDMS said its lawsuit will no longer be pursued, United National Congress (UNC) Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial said the other claim would continue to engage the attention of the court.

She is one of the attorneys representing Cindy-Ann Ramsaroop-­Persad, whose 77-year-old father, Silochan Ramsaroop, died at the Couva hospital in July of last year.

On Thursday evening, Lutchme­dial told the Express the lifting of the ban did not affect her client’s case.

“This does not affect Miss Ram­­saroop’s claim as her case is grounded in the violation of her rights. The Constitution permits citi­zens to challenge past, ongoing or possible violations.

“It speaks volumes however about the underlying logic of the ban when the policy can be changed whilst the daily infection rate is at its highest,” she said.

Lutchmedial went on to add that while “we are happy that Hindus would no longer be forced to abandon their customs and traditions rooted in their spiritual beliefs”, changing the policy when the infection rate was so high gave credence to the held view that there was no scientific evidence to have such a ban in effect in the first place.

She said this was all the more reason for Ramsaroop-Persad’s claim to proceed.

“The rights of citizens cannot simply be trampled on without justification,” Lutchmedial said.

No arguable ground 

Ramsaroop-Persad’s claim is expected to come up for hearing at the High Court on March 2 before Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams.

While the judge had initially dismissed the claim, the Appeal Court eventually overruled her findings and had the matter remitted to the High Court.

In an oral decision delivered in November, Justices of Appeal Gre­gory Smith, Mark Mohammed and Ronnie Boodoosingh allowed the appeal against Justice Quinlan-Williams’ ruling and granted Ramsaroop-Persad leave to file the claim for judicial review against the cremation guidelines.

The matter was sent back to the judge for urgent consideration.

In her initial ruling, Justice Quin­lan-Williams allowed Ramsaroop-­Persad to challenge the police commissioner’s decision not to grant a permit for the cremation, but was denied permission to include Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh in the lawsuit.

The judge held that Ramsaroop-­Persad’s application against the minister raised no arguable ground for success since the guidelines did not have the force of law or require voluntary compliance.

Police had at first granted the family a permit for the deceased final rites to take place at Waterloo, but this was later rescinded.

The family was told it had to be revoked because of the ban on open-air pyre cremations for Covid-19 deaths.

The SDMS later filed its own claim against the State over the ban.

It claimed that open-pyre cremations did not cause the spread of the virus and it was more costly to carry out cremations at funeral agencies.

In addition, the SDMS says the constitutional rights of those belong­ing to the Hindu faith were being infringed since outdoor cremations are one of its religious practices.

That claim was to be heard before Justice Nadia Kangaloo on March 25.

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