A ritual practiced by members of the Jain community called Santhara has become a topic of national debate. An order by Supreme Court issued on Monday brought relief to the Jain community, reports Hindustan Times
The Court stayed Rajasthan High Court’s order declaring Santhara as a criminal offence and issued a notice to Centre and the Rajasthan government asking them why the Jain monks were not consulted.
The ritual was recently banned by the Rajasthan HC making it punishable under section 306 (abetment of suicide) of the Indian Penal Code. Santhara, a ritual of voluntary and systematic fasting to death, was declared illegal in the eyes of law. The ancient ritual, also called Sallekhana, is considered the ultimate way to attain moksha (release from the cycle of rebirth), when one believes that his life has served its purpose. It is usually undertaken by elders nearing death or having no desire to live any more. The practitioner even sacrifices drinking water.
The Rajasthan Court decision came after public interest litigation (PIL) filed by human rights activist and advocate Nikhil Soni a decade ago, claimed that the ritual was a social evil and should be considered as suicide.
It was mentioned in the petition that it is old people who usually resort to Santhara, and allowing an elderly person to suffer without medical assistance, food and water is inhuman. Unhappy with the Rajasthan Court judgment, thousands of Jains had held a ‘silent march’. Members of both Shwetambar and Digambar sects participated in marches which were held in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradhesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam and other states.
Jains argue that it is a voluntary act of rational thinking and marks the beginning of a journey of understanding the inherently painful and flawed nature of earthly existence.
For millions of Jains in India, the PIL was a direct violation of the Indian Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. They say that the right to life includes a corresponding right not to live. Although no state government took an official stand on the Rajasthan High Court’s judgement, some ministers and political leaders criticised it. While the debate rages on, an 82-year-old woman in Rajasthan is on Santhara. She is living on a few spoons of water
taken only twice a day for the last two months.