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Sep 28, 2006 at 10:46pm IST

Jain fast unto death spiritual feat

Jaipur: A 61-year-old woman died in Jaipur on Thursday after fasting for two weeks.

The woman, who had brain tumor and blood cancer, had chosen to undertake Santhara, the Jain practice of fasting unto death, after doctors gave up on her.

Members of the Jain community shouted slogans that celebrated what they believe is a spiritual feat of Vimala Devi.

The practice of Santhara is to come up for hearing in court in just a week. The petitioners are now blaming the administration for Vimala Devi's death.

Says the petitioner's lawyer, Madhav Mitr, "It's a serious negligence on the part of the administration. They kept on taking legal opinions instead of going there and administering medical aid or glucose, so that Vimala Devi would recoup."

The court has questioned the practice but the grand funeral procession and cremation held for Vimala Devi clearly speak of the deep religious roots of Santhara.

Says a Jaipur-based Jain leader, Dr M R Gelara, "This Jain concept is very wonderful. They say there is transmigration, and for the evolution of the soul it is necessary to leave the body when you become confident that you are no more to live. She thought in this way and she adopted Santhara."

But sociologists do not agree. They say that the practice is too conservative and sexist, since it's mostly women who undertake the fast.

Says a sociologist, Rajiv Gupta, "You cannot survive without men, you cannot survive without being deep rooted in religion and at one stage when she finds that her man is not there for support or she thinks that now she has become a liability over the family she chooses this path and the family provides religious glamour to it."

Researchers say at least a hundred people from the Jain community die fasting every year. But Vimala Devi's death has intensified the debate on this age old practice.

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