Sallekhna or Santhara is a religious ritual to fast unto death, now banned by the Rajasthan High Court in a verdict it gave on August 10. The court declared Santhara illegal and made the practice as a punishable crime under section 309 of the IPC. With this announcement of Rajasthan High Court, Shwetambar and Digambar Jain communities came out on the streets in revolt against this ban. Thousands of Jain community members hit the streets of Jaipur and other cities on Monday to put their express their anger over the court decision. However, they did their way, with a silent march.
The march against the Santhara ban included Jains parading on streets in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam, West Bengal and other states. Jains took to streets in Kolkata as well against Santhara verdict which has hurt the sentiments of Jains in the nation. Kamal Dugar says, “We organized a silent procession. Our objective was to point out that the order is contrary to the spirit of Santhara, which has been a prevalent practice in our religion.” He is the president of the All India Terapanthi Mahasabha.
The members of Jain community are standing in unity, demanding the lift of this ban, which goes against their practice of Santhara. The ritual helps them meet salvation and is embedded in deep philosophical beliefs. As said by Dinesh Jain, chief patron of a Jain temple, “This practice is premised on a foundational idea that the act of fasting as an exercise of boldly autonomy to attain the state of utter transcendence.”
Speakers approached the high court that banned Santhara, considering it a form of suicide. The country saw a rebound from various ends. According to this ritual, which has a huge belief by Jains, it is a practice that is prevalent from thousands of years, and it’s a persons wish to voluntarily give up food and water as the end is near or he/she is suffering from an incurable illness. According to the reports, around 118 people performed this practice only in the first half of 2015.
Jains thereby challenged the high court saying their religious practice cannot be compared with suicide or euthanasia. In many places, to spread the discontent, masses took to social media uploading their photos. The High Court has declared, “Santhara or fast unto death is not an essential tenet of Jainism. It cannot be termed as “humane” and it’s violative of basic human right.” They also made comparisons to Euthnasia, a banned practice in India, only allowed on orders from the court, that too in desperate times. One such appeal for Euthanasia in recent times was made by Pinki Virani on behalf of Aruna Shaunbagh, who had then been in a vegetative state in KEM hospital for 40 years. The appeal was over ruled, on grounds that caregivers would have to satisfy the court that life for the victim was more painful than death. Keeping in mind such instances, the ban of the religious Jain practice may never again see light of day.