Oct 14, 2016

India Jains say 'many children have fasted'

BBC News

·        14 October 2016


Members of India's Jain community say 19 children from the community have undertaken religious fasts for "long periods" in recent years.

This follows outrage over the death of a 13-year-old girl who died last week after undertaking a fast for 68 days.

Aradhana Samdariya's parents have insisted she voluntarily fasted as prescribed in Jainism, one of the world's most ancient religions.

The case has sparked a debate about the practice of religious fasting in India.

A police spokesperson said a case had been registered against the parents, jewellers based in Hyderabad, after a child rights organisation filed a complaint.

In response, 640 prominent community members have sent to the police a list of children along with their photographs from the community who had fasted.

'Doing fine'

"We gave the references of these children only to prove that fasting has a place in Jainism," said Vinod Kimtee, secretary of the Sri Jain Seva Sangh in Hyderabad.

"All these children whose examples we have given are younger than Aradhana and doing fine despite fasting for record number of days."

The list mentions four children, including two siblings, who have undertaken religious fasts ranging between 68 and 83 days, in the western city of Ahmedabad since 2013.

Aradhana Samdariya's father said he had asked his daughter to stop her fast after 35 days "because she had already broken the record of 34 days she had set last year".

"But she was adamant she could go on till 68 [days]. Every day depending on her health and will power, permission would be sought from our guru in Chennai to continue the fast," said Laxmichand Samdariya.

'Society to blame'

Hyderabad-based businessman Narender Surana says it is wrong to only blame the family for the tragedy.

"Society and the system is to be blamed as well since many families want to show themselves as more religious than others. Children get elated when they are praised for fasting for many days without realising the harm to their health,'' said Mr Surana.

Prolonged fasting is popular among Jains, who are a minority religious group in India.

Activists have often criticised another controversial practice called santhara, in which a Jain gives up food and water with the intention of preparing for death.




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