SC stays Rajasthan HC verdict declaring Santhara illegal

August 31, 2015 12:03 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:32 pm IST

Santhara is a Jain custom of embracing voluntary death.

Santhara is a Jain custom of embracing voluntary death.

The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the order passed by Rajasthan High Court declaring Santhara as illegal. The High Court, in a judgment on August 10, 2015, declared the practice, which involves voluntary fast-unto-death, illegal and an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

“Issue notice. Leave granted,” a Bench comprising Chief Justice H.L. Dattu and Justice Amitava Roy said while staying the HC order and issuing notices to the Centre, Rajasthan and others.

The Bench was hearing a batch of petitions filed by various religious bodies of Jain community members against the High Court order on Santhara. The pleas had >sought a stay on the High Court judgment , claiming it was passed without appreciating the basic philosophy and tenets of Jain religion.

What is Santhara

Santhara is a Jain custom of embracing voluntary death – it involves practitioners taking an oath to stop eating until they die of starvation. According to Jains, this is a way to purge oneself of bad 'karma' and attain ‘moksha’.

The two sides:

Jain communityRajasthan High Court
Practitioners contend that Santhara is not an exercise in trying to achieve an unnatural death, but is rather a practice intrinsic to a person’s ethical choice to live with dignity until death. It is a ritual act of purification, done in consultation with a guru, and follows the most detailed of procedures. According to religious texts, it is permitted and is an integral part of Jainism.The court says there is no dignity whatsoever in the act of fasting, and that therefore, there exists no freedom to practise Santhara as an extension of one’s right to life under Article 21. Since 1960s, the court, on a case-by-case basis, has examined individual religious canons to determine what constituted an essential religious practice. “We do not find in any of the scriptures, preachings, articles or practices followed by the Jain ascetics, the Santhara…has been treated as an essential religious practice, nor is necessarily required for the pursuit of immortality or moksha.”

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