Terming birth and death as ‘religious festivals’, members of the Jain community in Rajasthan defended the ancient ritual fast of 'Santhara' as a means to attain salvation and not suicide.
"There is a vast difference between suicide and Santhara. Suicide is committed in a fit of anger or depression while the decision to observe Santhara is taken with a calm mind," former judge of Rajasthan High Court Pana Chand Jain told a news conference.
Some scholars said that in the Jain community, the rites of passage of birth and death were like a ‘Dharmic
Mahotsav’ (religious festival). They said the ritual fast unto death was often misunderstood by many
sections of the society and Santhara was only embraced by ‘terminally ill’ patients.
They said the practice should not be compared with 'sati' as it was not like a woman sitting in the funeral pyre of her husband but of
patients who had been given up by doctors.
Four case of Santhara, including of three women, have been reported in the state in a month with two of them dying in the past one week. The issue is pending in the Rajasthan High Court with a petition demanding that the practice, which it likens to suicide and 'sati', should be stopped.
Press Trust of India
"Santhara cannot be called suicide, least of all sati,” argued Raj Kumar
Baradiya, general secretary of the Shree Jain Shvetambar Mahasangh,
Jaipur. “Suicide is committed by a person who has given up on life.
Santhara, on the other hand, is taken up by someone who has performed all his duties and wants to purify the soul before leaving the world,” he said.
Another argument in favour of santhara is that, unlike suicide, it is “reversible”. “A person undergoing santhara is free to take food and return to normal life at any stage,” said
Panna Lal Pugliya, a former president of the Shree Jain Tera Panthi Akhil Bhartiya Yuva Parishad.
According to the practicing Jains, the ritual is not a modern-day phenomenon but
in fact is centuries old. "One who desires to commit suicide will jump from great height, throw oneself
before a running train or hang oneself. Why would he take the painful way of
fasting for 30, even 40 days at a stretch? 'Santhara' is just a penance one
undertakes when he or she realises that the body has become defunct anyway, so
one wishes to alienate desires connected with it," said Acharya Maha Pragyaji.
The Jain traditions should not be interfered with, he said, adding that the
point was beyond debate and the Jain followers should be allowed to keep their
right to follow the 'Santhara' ritual. "Santhara' is a religious act, a spiritual act. It is neither a desire to kill oneself, nor to clutch on to life, any which way. That would be suicide, an act
done in a fit of a moment and in a surge of feelings. 'Santhara' is just a
graceful, courageous and peaceful way of confronting the imminent death and of
embracing it through resolve and penance," he said, defending the centuries-old