SANTHARA- DEVOTION OR SUICIDE

Badani Devi, 82 lady is surviving only on a few spoons of water every day; she is practicing Santhara.

A multilingual and multicultural country, India  boasts of thousands of different traditions and customs practiced under  innumerable religions followed here. Undoubtedly the people have immense faith in their customs considering  them above their own lives. Though many a times, these rituals pose a grave threat to the person concerned and to the society, thereby encroaching the fundamental right of life . Thus, to solve these types of conflicting religious philosophies, the law jumps into action to decide a way out; Santhara cum suicide case being the latest issue..

Santhara is a rigid ritual followed by the jain community which is a fast-unto-death. The person practicing it takes a vow and voluntarily sacrifices all sorts of worldly pleasures and lives a simple yet difficult life. Santhara is practiced in stages, gradually giving up solid food, then liquid food and finally even water. Turning indifferent to any type of suffering to their body, it is a stubborn manner of waiting for death to engulf them, a form of soul purification; they say it is. According to the person following it, Santhara  is an act of spiritual purification premised on an exercise of individual autonomy.

The righteousness of Santhara case came into question when Rajasthan High Court gave a verdict against it. On 10th August, the Jaipur bench of the court ruled on a public interest litigation filed in may 2006 against Santhara. It was ruled that henceforth, it would be treated as suicide, punishable under section 309 and 306 of the Indian penal code, and not as a religious practice. The High court also compared the practice to the old Sati practice.

The question is, whether the stand of the Jaipur Bench to term Santhara as suicide is right or wrong. Legally if we see, then Santhara is close to suicide, although not as a result of hopelessness or any negativity, and so IPC can be imposed on such act. However the Supreme Court has lifted the ban as it is reviewing the cluster of petitions from Jain community saying Santhara is constitutionally protected as right to religious freedom.

Santhara leads to a painfully slow death and so stinks of the chances of foul play sometimes.  Jaipur based lawyer and activist, Nikhil Soni who had asked for the santhara to be banned debates that it can be misused to cover for the death of family members they to do not want to take care of.

Whether to treat Santhara as suicide or not depends upon the viewpoint of people from different communities. Where the Jain community regards is as completely justified and an act of supreme renunciation, others may consider it, as a suicide camouflaged under the name of taking death under stride.

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