The Supreme Court Monday stayed the Rajasthan High Court order which had declared the Jain ritual of Santhara a penal offence — a person, after taking a vow of Santhara, stops eating and drinking water and awaits death. A bench led by Chief Justice H L Dattu ordered a stay on the High Court order and issued notices to the state government and others.
The bench also admitted the appeal for hearing and granted leave. This means that the matter will come up for hearing only after a few years from now when other older appeals are decided.
On August 10, the Rajasthan High Court banned Santhara, a Jain ritual of voluntary fasting unto death, and made it an offence under Section 309 (attempt to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code. It held that any person supporting the practice would be prosecuted for abetting suicide.
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The High Court said Santhara was not an essential religious practice of the Jain community which needed to be protected under the right to freedom of religion under Article 25 of the Constitution.
A batch of appeals were filed in the Supreme Court against this order. The petition by Akhil Bharat Varshiya Digambar Jain Parishad stated that Santhara was not an act to terminate one’s life but a vow intended to purify the soul from the karmas, and it could not be equated with the offence of suicide.
“Conceptually, Santhara or Sallekhana is different from suicide as this vow is not taken either in passion or in anger, deceit, etc. It is a conscious process of spiritual purification where one does not desire death but seeks to live his life, whatever is left of it, in a manner so as to reduce the influx of karmas,” the petition stated.
On the other hand, the petition stated, suicide is an offence of passion, abhorred in Jain religion. “Suicide is undertaken by a person in severe bouts of passion in anger, depression or hatred — antithetical to the concept of peaceful and joyous renunciation which is the basis of Sallekhana or Santhara,” it stated.
The appeal claimed it was unwise and improper to link a sacred practice of the Jain religion, premised on ahimsa (non-violence), with suicide.