This Article is From Sep 01, 2015

82-Year-Old's Fast to Death Has a Name, As Court Allows 'Santhara'

Badani Devi, a resident of Rajasthan's Bikaner, has been on Santhara fast for 46 days.

Jaipur: Hours after the Supreme Court stayed the Rajasthan High Court's decision which said Santhara - a ritual fast to embrace death --- was akin to suicide and therefore punishable, an 82-year-old woman in Bikaner declared that she has undertaken Santhara.

Badani Devi, a resident of Bikaner's Gangashaher, claimed she has not eaten anything for 46 days, but did not declare her Santhara vows, as she wanted to steer clear of legal trouble.

Badani Devi has given up food water completely and only takes a few tea spoons of water after sunrise and before sunset. According to her niece Pushpa, she had undertaken the fast since July 25 and the family was proud of her.

Her health is extremely fragile now, said her nephew Bhanwar Lal Daga. "She remains in a state of meditation most of the time and only drinks a few sips of water now and then," he added.

Santhara, the Jains claim, is an ancient ritual in which those who feel they have fulfilled all obligations and duties in life, give up food and water until death. The Jains believe this form of death provides salvation from the cycle of birth and death and is different from suicide.

But in 2006, a petition filed in the Rajasthan High Court by social activist Nikhil Soni had compared Santhara to suicide.

The petitioner had claimed that he felt often families unwilling to take care of their elderly members forced them to undertake Santhara, denying them food, water and medicines.

It took the High Court nine years to give judgment on this issue. Last month, the court said Santhara was equal to suicide and punishable under Section 309 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The Jain community not only held protests against the order, but also petitioned the Supreme Court, which, in an interim order today, allowed Santhara to continue.