A 13-year-old girl in Hyderabad died last week after fasting for 68 days as per Jain rituals during the holy period of ‘Chaumasa’.
Aradhana, a class 8 student, was admitted to the hospital just two days after completing her fast where she died of cardiac arrest, the family said.
At least 600 people attended Aradhana’s funeral hailing her as a ‘bal tapasvi’. The funeral procession was called a ‘shobha yatra’ – a mark of celebration.
Aradhana’s family runs a jewellery business and has a shop in the Pot Bazaar area of Secunderabad. Questions are being raised why they allowed her to give up school and sit on a fast.
‘It has been a practice for people to undertake severe penance when they give up even food and water. They are glorified, lauded and honoured at community meetings by the religious elders. They are also showered with gifts. But in this case it was a minor and that is my objection,” said Lata Jain, a member of the community. ”This is suicide if not murder,” she added.
Sources close to the family said Aradhana had earlier undertaken a similar fast for 41 days and survived.
“We did not hide anything. Everyone knew Aradhana was fasting. They came and took selfies with her. Now some people are pointing fingers at us for allowing her to fast for 68 days,” Aradhana’s grandfather, Manekchand Samdhariya said.
Pictures available with NDTV show a weak Aradhana sitting dressed up like a bride, surrounded by several others, on a grand chariot.
Newspaper advertisements issued after the girl completed the nearly 10-week-long fast show Telangana minister from Secunderabad area, Padma Rao Goud, was the chief guest at grand event for ‘Paarana’- the completion of fast. Zaheerabad lawmaker BB Patil is also seen in the photos of the event.
According to Jain religious leaders, Santhara is usually meant for elderly people, who have lived their life and want renunciation.
”There should never be any element of force or coercion in tapasya or fasting. This was a tragedy and we must learn our lessons from it,” Maharasa Ravinder Muniji of Kachiguda Sthanak told NDTV.
Child rights activist Shanta Sinha says a police case must be registered and the child rights commission must take action.
”A minor is not deemed to have a voluntary will to take decisions that can endanger their life. Religious leaders also need to re-look at what should be allowed and what is not,” she said.
The incident prompted city police to launch an inquiry into the incident after a child rights NGO sought a probe. According to B Sumathi, Deputy Commissioner of Police (North Zone), a case would be filed after a preliminary inquiry into the incident, as of now, an entry had been made in the general dairy.