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India Supreme Court suspends ban on ritual starvation

By
Ed Adamczyk
A Jain shrine in India. Photo by Piyush Jain/Wikimedia
A Jain shrine in India. Photo by Piyush Jain/Wikimedia

NEW DELHI , Sept. 1 (UPI) -- A ban on santhara, a religious fasting ritual leading to death, was suspended by India's Supreme Court.

A lower court in Rajasthan outlawed the voluntary practice, usually undertaken by sick and aged members of the Indian faith Jainism. In its August ruling, the court called it the equivalent of suicide and thus illegal.

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About 6 million Indians practice the Jain faith, and thousands protested the Rajasthan decision last week, differentiating between suicide, which is a sin in their religion, and santhara, an element of their faith. The practice of an adherent voluntarily ending his or her life, typically by starvation, is a respected part of Jainism.

The Supreme Court's stay on the Rajasthan ruling will likely allow the practice for at least four more years, until the decision is scheduled for another hearing.

The ruling followed a 2006 case by a plaintiff who argued santhara is often forced on an individual, who is unable to properly give consent, by family members. Defenders of the practice call it an important part of Jainism, a faith that includes austerity and renunciation of many comforts. Human rights activists have referred to it as tantamount to forced suicide.

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