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SC allows Jains to fast unto death

New Delhi: The Supreme Court today stayed the operation of a Rajasthan High Court order terming as illegal the religious practice of “santhara”, a ritual of fasting until death prevalent among Jain community members.

As part of their religion, Jains can take a vow to give up food and water as a way of embracing death. It is unclear how many deaths occur every year but local media put the number at a couple of hundred.

“Issue notice. Leave granted,” a bench comprising Chief Justice H L Dattu and Justice Amitava Roy said while staying the HC order and issuing notices to the Centre, Rajasthan and others.

The bench was hearing a batch of petitions filed by various religious bodies of Jain community members against the High Court order on santhara.

The pleas had sought a stay on the high court judgement, claiming it was passed without appreciating the basic philosophy and tenets of the Jain religion.

The Rajasthan High Court had on August 10 held ‘santhara’ as illegal making it punishable under section 306 and 309 of IPC related to abetment of suicide.

The petitions claimed that the high court erred in equating the religious practice with the offence of suicide.

The petition came in the backdrop of protests by the community in Rajasthan and some other states against the high court order.

Jain ‘Santhara’ Ritual of Fast Unto Death Can Continue for Now, Says Court
Members of Jain community shout slogans during a protest in Mumbai against Rajasthan High Court order of banning the religious practice of Santhara on August 24, 2015. (AP)

NEW DELHI: For now, a tradition of Jains that sees themselves starving to death has been permitted by the Supreme Court.

Last month, the Rajasthan High Court said that the voluntary custom of “santhara” is a form of suicide and therefore illegal. Last week, thousands of Jains held a demonstration in Jaipur carrying banners that read “Suicide is crime. Santhara is religion.”

A group of petitions challenging the High Court’s order said that it impeded upon religious freedom as guaranteed by the constitution.