Woman prepares to die under Jain ritual, sparks debate

Jaipur, India - A 60-year-old woman suffering from brain tumour here has embarked on an age-old Jain ritual of Santhara, under which she has stopped taking food or water with an intention to die. The move has sparked a debate, with a local advocate filing a PIL, equating the practice with suicide and mercy killing.

After Vimla Devi Bhansali was told by doctors that her brain tumour was incurable, she decided to stop taking food or water in order to die instead of waiting for the disease to consume her. A large number of her relatives and members of the Shwetambar Jain community visited her Chhatrsal Colony home on Sunday.

Followers of this Jain sect also came from nearby towns, loaded in cars and buses, to visit Bhansali. Santhara is practised among the Shwetambar Jain community in old age. Those observing Santhara do not want to live any more and would prepare to die by lying down in a wooden cot and refusing drink or food.

Jain monks and nuns preach Santhara as the best way to purify ones soul and a great sacrifice. Santhara is considered a supreme sacrifice and often monks and nuns in old age observe the ritual.

Bhansali's family members said they tried to dissuade her, but to no avail. However, Rajasthan HC had asked police to take action against Bhansali after a PIL was filed by advocate Nikhil Soni, who said the practice was like Sati.

Police said no action had been initiated as the court orders were yet to reach them. A debate has been sparked off on the religious practice. A double bench comprising Chief Justice S N Jha and Justice Ajay Rastogi has sent notices to the Centre and state government, fixing the hearing for October 5.

Large number of members of the Jain Shwetambar community were of the opinion that observing Santhara was a ritual, which made it different from suicide and Sati as it has been in practice for 1,000 years now.

The community leaders were of the opinion that it was a Jain religious practice and was not punishable under law.