A first information report (FIR) has been filed against the parents of a 13-year-old girl in Hyderabad who died after observing a ritual fast for 68 days, according to ANI.
Aradhana, who kept the 'chaturmas', a traditional fast among Jains, in the hope that it would revive her family's dwindling jewellery business, died of a cardiac arrest two days after she broke it. The Class VII student of Saint Francis and resident of Pot Bazaar area in Secunderabad stopped going to school to sit for the fast. She was hailed as 'bal tapasvi' after her death and celebrated by her community.
An FIR was lodged against her parents, Laxmi Chand and Manshi, following a complaint by Balala Hakkula Sangham president Achut Rao, who alleged Aradhana's "parents... and other community members forced" her to undergo the fast and now "they are saying their jewellery business is good because of her fast."
The girl's father, however, maintained that her decision was voluntary and she had earlier undertaken such a feat successfully earlier. "No father wants his daughter to die," he said. "She had performed this ritual earlier, too, but her body reacted differently this time."
According to Laxmi Chand, Aradhana had fasted for 34 days last year and had decided to do it for double the number of days this time. Her act wasn't kept a secret but was approved and applauded by the Jain community. People flocked to see her perform this task and even took selfies with her, while she was on her mission, her grandfather Manekchand Samdhariya had told NDTV.
Santhara (it is called Sallekhana by Digambar Jains), or ritual fasting unto death, is usually undertaken only by the elderly or terminally ill among the Swetambara Jains, especially by religious leaders on their deathbeds. Jains see it as a form of self-purification and an act of taking death in its stride by a gradual renunciation of food and fluids.
The practice, though controversial and vulnerable to misuse, is not illegal or equated with suicide. Last year, the Supreme Court stayed an order by the Rajasthan High Court which had compared santhara with suicide and made it a punishable offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
No Jain religious leader has criticised Aradhana's death so far. Upadaya Ravindra Muni, one of them, has in fact called it "an accident, as her body was fine. She wilfully attempted to complete the penance."
The incident has sent shock waves across Hyderabad, with child rights activists demanding an inquiry and action against those responsible for her death.
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