Eighty-two year old Badani Devi of Gangashaher, Bikaner today became the became the first person to die after embracing santhara, the Jain ritual of fasting oneself to death and attaining salvation.
The death today ( i.e Sept 5) came after 50 days of fasting wherein Badani Devi had given up food and water. The death is the first to come after a protracted legal battle over the Jain ritual.
The Supreme Court on August 31 stayed a Rajasthan High Court order that had banned the century-old practice of the Jains to starve oneself to death to attain salvation/moksh.
On August 10, the Rajasthan High Court had made Santhara a criminal offence under penal code sections 309 (attempted suicide) and 306 (abetment of suicide), punishable by jail terms of up to one year and 10 years, respectively.
The ban came following a PIL filed by human rights activist Nikhil Soni in 2006, who had petitioned that the ritual which targets fast unto death is as close to committing suicide and should be tried under Article 309 of IPC.
Activists have compared Santhara to suicide, euthanasia and even Sati, arguing that many times it may be a way of getting rid of elderly relatives and grab their share of property.
Accepting the logic, the Rajasthan High Court had allowed the abetment charge against family and approximate community members.
The High Court ruling prompted protests from the Jain community. Jain organisations then moved the apex court, arguing violation of Articles 25 (free profession, practice and propagation of religion), 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs) and 29 (protection of interests of the minorities).
In Bikaner, family members of Badani Devi say she had been fasting for the 49 days and today was her 50th day. With the legal imbroglio over the ritual, the family members avoided making public her taking up of santhara
She passed away around 8 am in the morning today and a hundreds of people attended her funeral procession.
Badani Devi had performed taap (meditation) for eight days before embracing santhara. Her family members say she was on ventilator earlier as she suffered from high BP and diabetes too. But later after taking up santhara, she asked her family members to remove the ventilator.
Badani Devi had given up food and water completely and only took a few sips of water now and then. One of three sons owns a sweet shop and her extended family is from a upper middle class. They live in a Jain dominated locality in Gangashaher, around 4 km away on the outskirts of Bikaner.
Many prominent Jain personalities have hailed her Badani Devi’s decision to take up santhara.
They say the lady was critically ill and died with dignity. Death was already there, it had arrived. It was upto her to decide how to embrace death, although permission is required from guru and family members, which she must have taken, say Jain community members. Her family members said one of her relatives had also taken up santhara some 30 years ago.
Dr D R Mehta, patron of Jaipur Foot and a great supporter of santhara said : “I also want to take up santhara when I can feel death is imminent. I have decided to tell my son not to put me on ventilator, not to put put tubes through my nose and not give me sedatives and medicines. I know there would be social pressures on my son so I have decided my lawyer to make a will, just like a living will which is followed in US, to forbid my family members to take remedial measures.”
He added: “But if one wants to die quickly after taking santhara and seeks glorification, then it ceases to be santhara. I think Badani Devi was a great noble soul.”