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Rajasthan High Court order on Santhara tradition challenged in apex court

    New Delhi, August 19, 2015: A petition challenging the Rajasthan High Court verdict holding Santhara, a centures-old Jain ritual of voluntary and systematic fasting to death, an offence and maintaining that people opting for the ritual can be punished under section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was filed before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

    On August 10, the high court had declared that “Santhara is illegal in the eyes of law. If anybody goes for Santhara on account of religion can be treated as suicide and a case should be lodged as per the law.

    Filing an appeal against the high court order, one Dhaniwal Jiwan Mehta from Rajasthan has moved the apex court.

    Even Jains who 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 this community, the high court order was direct violation of the Constitution which guaranteed right of religious freedom. The Jains are yet to file appeal in the court.

    The high court’s ban on the Jain ritual comes after a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by human rights activist and advocate Nikhil Soni a decade ago. The activist claimed the ritual is a social evil and should be considered as suicide.

    The ancient ritual, also called Sallekhana, consists of voluntary starvation to embrace death. The Swetambar (white sect) community, which practises the age-old ritual, considers it the ultimate way to attain moksha (release from the cycle of rebirth), when one believes that his life has served its purpose. Mostly elderly people nearing death or having no desire to live any more, opt for this ritual.

    The practice of Santhara has been in the eye of a storm since 2006 when the case of 93-year-old Keila Devi Hirawat from Jaipur had international media debating whether there was any place for such a ritual in the modern world.

    Later, human rights activist and lawyer Nikhil Soni and his lawyer Madhav Mishra filed a PIL in the Rajasthan high court. One of the concerns raised in the petition was 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. – News Courtesy: DNA India

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