The funeral of a man from Cunupia, who died of COVID-19 on July 25, has been put on hold while his daughter pursues urgent legal action against the continued prohibition of open-air pyre cremations for such persons.
On Tuesday, High Court Judge Avason Quinlan-Williams granted Cindy-Ann Ramsaroop-Persad leave to pursue her hybrid judicial review and constitutional motion lawsuit against the Commissioner of Police and the Office of the Attorney General.
Health Minister Terrance Deyalsingh was initially listed as a party to the claim but was removed based on the participation of the AG’s office.
Ramsaroop-Persad was also seeking interim relief in the form of her being allowed to have her father’s funeral while the case is being pursued but such was not granted during the hearing as Quinlan-Williams deemed the substantive case fit for urgent hearing.
The case is expected to come up for hearing, this morning.
According to her court filings, obtained by Guardian Media, Ramsaroop’s father Silochan Ramsaroop, 77, passed away five days after being admitted to the Couva Medical and Multi-Training Facility on July 20.
Ramsaroop-Persad’s brother applied at the Chaguanas Police Station for a permit for their father to be cremated at the Waterloo cremation on August 10 and it was granted.
However, hours later, a police officer contacted the family and claimed that the permit was revoked as it was issued in error because of the ongoing prohibition against open-air pyre cremations for COVID-19 victims.
Ramsaroop-Persad’s lawyers claimed that her father was a devout Hindu and served as an assistant or nawh to a pundit for several years.
They claimed that having a traditional cremation at Waterloo was his dying wish.
“I doh wah my body smelling like burn barbecue and causing the place to catch a fire and all kinda thing. Bun meh in Waterloo and let me get peace,” Ramsaroop allegedly told his daughter before his death.
In the court filings, Ramsroop-Persad’s lawyers sought to summarise her views on cremations at funeral homes based on her faith and her experience from working as a secretary at Dass Funeral Home for over 21 years.
“Having been in the funeral industry for several years, she is aware that the experience of an indoor crematorium on the senses can be quite nauseating and sometimes sickening...In morbidly obese people, the smell and heat generated can become unbearable and sometimes results in some hazards,” they said.
They also claimed that the cost of an indoor cremation is prohibitive for persons such as her because a basic package costs approximately $18,500 as compared to $7,500 for an open-air pyre cremation.
They used an example of one client of the funeral home where Ramsroop-Persad works, who was forced to bury her relative as she could not afford an indoor cremation.
They also alleged the due to increases in COVID-19 related deaths there has been a backlog of cremations at funeral homes and it takes one to two weeks for customers to receive their relative’s ashes.
“This has an adverse domino effect on the religious timeline for the other aspects of the last rites. It prolongs the traditional ten-to-twelve day period of mourning and upsets the natural timetable of events,” they said.
In the lawsuit, Ramsroop-Persad is claiming that there appeared to be a blanket prohibition against open-air pyre funerals when such was not contained within ongoing public health regulations for the COVID-19 pandemic but only in associated guidelines issued by the Health Ministry, which do not carry penalties for non-compliance.
“The unfair and discriminatory effect of this ban is obvious as Hindus cannot cremate their dead in accordance with their religious belief and practice,” they said.
They also claimed that the policy, which they claimed was implemented without scientific data on the issue, breached Ramsaroop-Persad’s constitutional rights.
“The ban on open-air cremations is arbitrary, irrational, and fundamentally unfair. It is an effective measure to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus which disproportionately affects the Indian and Hindu community and breaches multiple fundamental rights,” they said.
“She is being forced to go against everything she stands for and act contrary to her religious beliefs in a society whose very constitution recognizes the supremacy of God and religion. This therefore cannot be a trivial, insubstantial, or frivolous abridgement of her rights,” they said.
Ramsaroop-Persad is being represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Renuka Rambhajan, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Vishaal Siewsaram, Natasha Bissoon, and Cheyenne Lugo.