This Article is From Aug 31, 2015

Jain 'Santhara' Ritual of Fast Unto Death Can Continue for Now, Says Court

Members of Jain community shout slogans during a protest in Mumbai against Rajasthan High Court order of banning the religious practice of Santhara on August 24, 2015. (AP)

New Delhi: For now, a tradition of Jains that sees themselves starving to death has been permitted by the Supreme Court.

Last month, the Rajasthan High Court said that the voluntary custom of "santhara" is a form of suicide and therefore illegal. Last week, thousands of Jains held a demonstration in Jaipur carrying banners that read "Suicide is crime. Santhara is religion."

A group of petitions challenging the High Court's order said that it impeded upon religious freedom as guaranteed by the constitution.

As part of their religion, Jains can take a vow to give up food and water as a way of embracing death. It is unclear how many deaths occur every year but local media put the number at a couple of hundred.

The High Court verdict was based on a petition by an activist in Rajasthan who argued the practice was against the law. He questioned whether elderly Jains were being encouraged to take the vow to free families of the burden of taking care of them, an argument Jains deny.