Life is ebbing away from 83-year-old Badni Devi Daga but her wizened face shows no pain.
There is only contentment, a family member said on Wednesday, as the octogenarian lay on her bed in her home in Bikaner’s Gangashahar town after she opted for ‘santhara’, a Jain ritual of voluntarily fasting to death that the community believes leads to salvation.
Nearly 50 days into her fast, members of Devi’s family have descended from various parts of the country to be with her during her last days at her modest house in Dagon Ki Gali, a neighbourhood of the tight-knit Jain community.
There is also a steady stream of visitors to the household – relatives, people from the community and religious leaders – turning it into pilgrimage of sorts for Jains.
The ritual of santhara had come under the spotlight after the Rajasthan high court on August 10 directed police to register criminal cases under sections of the Indian Penal Code related to attempted suicide and abetment to suicide against those practising or promoting the tradition.
However, the Supreme Court stayed the high court’s order earlier this week, giving relief to Jains amid a raging debate on religious freedom.
Though Devi had started her fast many weeks before, family members announced her santhara decision only after the apex court’s order.
Hindustan Times spoke to members of Devi’s family at Gangashahar, more than 300 km from state capital Jaipur, who are taking turns to be at her bedside.