Jain lady dies after religious fasting

Jaipur, India - Vimla Devi, who had gone on to a fast unto death, passed away on Thursday in Jaipur.

The 61-year-old had been suffering from blood cancer for the past three years and also had a malignant brain tumour.

She decided to undertake a Santhara and died after a ten day fast.

Santhara is a Jain tradition where a devotee can fast unto death to end one's life and can voluntarily stop taking food, water and medicines.

It was almost a festive atmosphere at Vimla devi's funeral. According to Jain religious tradition a devotee who takes Santhara attains moksha or liberation and such a death is considered saintly.

"She had cancer of the last stages, so after a while even the doctors gave up and said take her home and leave the rest of god," said Sohanlal Bhansali, Vimla Devi's husband.

"We have come to witness this celebration where a soul has liberated itself. In our religion this is the highest death," said a city resident.

Violation of civil law

But Vimla Devi's decision to undertake a spiritual fast unto death had prompted a PIL in the Rajasthan high court.

The petitioners had argued that Sathara violates the principles of civil law and should be treated as suicide.

"At a time when the elderly need care, if their family leaves them to die saying they have decided to take Santhara who is to stop them," said Madhav Mitra, lawyer for the petitioner.

The case now comes up for hearing on the October 5 and Vimla Devi's death, Santhara or suicide, has once again revived the debate on mercy killing Vs suicide.