The parents of a 13-year-old girl who died after fasting for 68 days in Hyderabad have gone into hiding fearing arrest, but they continue to be under the spotlight along with the Jain ritual of ‘tapasya’ which allegedly claimed their daughter’s life.
Friends and relatives of Lakshmichand and Manisha — the parents of Aradhana Samdariya — say they have “gone out of town in search of peace” ever since the police registered a case against them for homicide amid allegations that they had coerced the girl to undertake the hazardous ritual. They have also moved the local court seeking anticipatory bail.
Many Jain leaders, meanwhile, have come out in support of the parents , saying they are being targeted and the community deliberately maligned. They say the ritual of ‘tapasya’ that Aradhana undertook is the first of the nine steps (nav-pad) aimed at attaining salvation, and is not the same as the more controversial Jain ritual of ‘santhara’, whereby the elderly or the sick abstain from food until they die.
The other eight steps towards salvation include charitra (character), gyan (knowledge), darshan (faith) and arihant (one who has vanquished all inner enemies and is still within the body).
“There are various forms of fasting as part of tapasya — one can do it on alternative days, or two days, four days, 18 days, 34 days and 68 days or even more, depending on the capacity of individual. But there is no pressure on anybody to do it and it is purely voluntary,” insists Maangilal Bhandari, an influential Jain leader of Hyderabad.
|Tapasya vs Santhara|
|The objective of tapasya is self purification and atonement from sins||The primary objective of santhara is to attain the highest level of consciousness when a person can observe the process of the soul departing from his body. In other words, he observes the entire process of his own death|
|Death is not an objective for tapasya and the duration of the fast is generally pre-determined||Death is the objective in santhara and the person will fast until his body stops working and he dies|
|People from all age-groups undergo tapasya, with the duration of the fast ranging from one day to even two months or more. No restrictions on the upper limit||Santhara is generally taken up by elderly people who feel that their death is imminent and voluntarily choose the ritual. People suffering from terminal diseases also opt for this ritual|
|At the end of tapasya, a person can go back to the daily routine of his life||Santhara ends with death. A person taking up santhara has no desire to go back to his daily routine of everyday life|
|By undergoing rigorous fasting without any materialistic elements, tapasya aims to centralise all the energy in the body||In santhara there is no objective of purification, atonement of sins or centralizing energy. The entire process is focused on witnessing the separation of the soul from the body|
“The objective of tapasya is self-purification and atonement for sins. It is a very common practice in the Jain community with the most common duration of the fast being one day,” points out Sanjeev Bhanawat, director of Centre for Jain Studies at Rajasthan University. “An important aspect is the duration of it has to be according to the physical capacity of the person who is vowing to do it,” he adds.
Aradhana reportedly fasted for 34 days last year, surviving on water for the period. But her longer fast that ended on September 30 proved fatal. According to a family acquaintance, she broke her fast by taking juice and continued to be on liquid diet for the next two days, until she complained of stomach ache, collapsed and was proclaimed dead on being brought to hospital.
“Even if it was a voluntary decision of Aradhana, the parents should have stopped her since doing fast for such a long time would lead to death,” points out child rights activist Anuradha Rao. Magsaysay award winner and former chairperson of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Shanta Sinha, says the parents must be prosecuted for the crime.
But Shwetambar Jain Sadhvi Amitguna disagrees. “Media doesn’t see the mass practice in which thousands of people observe tapasya across the country and gain a lot of benefit. There is hardly any death,” she explains. According to her, there is no age bar for practicing tapasya and the duration of the fast is determined by the person’s physical and mental status.
Dr Shailesh Lunawat, president of the Bhopal-based Shri Adinath Shwetambar Jain Sangh, is known to have observed tapasya for 36 days. He fasted for a day and then had food the next day. Thereafter he fasted for two days and broke the fast for a day. He staggered his fasts.
Sadhvi Amitguna says there are 12 kinds of tapasya and people can observe fast even while eating. “All they have to do is to restrict or lessen the quantity of food,” she says.
With inputs from Deep Mukherjee in Jaipur and Ranjan Srivastava in Bhopal