Supreme Court stays Rajasthan High Court verdict banning ‘Santhara’

Accepting the Jain community’s plea for the retention of ‘Santhara’ or fasting till death, the Supreme Court on Monday stayed the Rajasthan high court’s verdict, which ruled that such practice is an offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Supreme Court

Issuing notice to the Centre, Rajasthan and Nikhi Soni (petitioner before the HC), the court admitted the plea and sought their response on the petition.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu, was hearing a batch of petitions filed by various religious bodies of the Jain community members against the high court order. In its plea, Akhil Bharat Varshiya Digambar Jain Parishad said the ritual is not an act to terminate one’s life but a vow taken for the remaining duration of one’s life and it cannot be equated with suicide.

They said the vow is intended to purify the soul from karmas and under no circumstances, it can be equated with committing suicide.

“Conceptually, Sallekhana or Santhara is different from suicide as this vow is not taken either in passion or in anger, deceit etc, but it is a conscious process of spiritual purification, where one does not desire death but seeks to live his life or whatever is left of it in a manner so as to reduce the influx of karmas,” stated the plea.

The high court’s ban on the Jain ritual came on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by human rights activist and advocate Nikhil Soni claiming the ritual a “social evil” and should be considered as suicide.

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 was reported widely and debated upon.

Later, Soni filed a PIL in the Rajasthan high court saying it is old people, who usually resort to Santhara, and allowing an elderly person to suffer without medical assistance, food and water is inhuman.