Jains marched in hundreds Monday to the office of the District Collector in Pune against the Rajasthan High Court order banning the community’s practice of facing death voluntarily at the end of one’s life. But a 71-year-old Jain physician remained unperturbed, preparing for “Iccha Maran” — just like the “beautiful death” of his father 19 years ago.
Dr Kalyan Gangwal, consulting physician at the KEM Hospital, is firm on taking up Sallekhana aka Santhara aka Samadhi Maran. He even made a will six months ago.
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‘’I do not have any terminal illness, but I have informed my family members that I am preparing myself to eventually take up Sallekhana,” Gangwal told The Indian Express.
Father Motilal had gone the same way — he practised Sallekhana for 12 years before dying at the age of 94. Gangwal says that even as a doctor, he found his father’s death beautiful.
“My father slowly gave up consumption of ghee, salt. In his last seven days, he had only water. He eventually died, in a fully conscious state in March 1996. This is Iccha Maran. He had hoped to die on the auspicious occasion of Gudi Padwa (the Maharashtrian New Year) and he did. All of us are so proud of him.”
Gangwal said history will be repeated in his case.
“My sons urged me to reconsider my decision, but I am firm. This is my decision. Sallekhana is not an exercise in trying to achieve an unnatural death. Sallekhana or Santhara is allowed only when a person is suffering from incurable disease or great disability or when a person is nearing his end. This is a highly respected practice among members of the Jain community and is intrinsic to a person’s ethical choice to live with dignity until death,” he said.
Gangwal has a simple meal once a day — he does not eat onions and has stopped drinking water after sunset.
“I am still active. I go to hospital and attend to patients at my clinic. It is not that I am inviting death to my doorstep. But even if I reach the age of 80, I want death to be beautiful. I have told my children to take me to Gajpantha caves near the Jain temple at Nashik where I will eventually leave my body,” he said.
“My child, my wife have nothing to do with my soul. If we have a right to live, then we have a right to die with dignity. This is our religious practice, our spiritual philosophy. Law should not hurt the sentiments of the community, “ he said.