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Last Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Another India Jain fasts to death
By Narayan Bareth
BBC News, Jaipur

Vimla Devi's funeral
Jains say 'Santhara' should not be equated to suicide
Another person belonging to India's Jain community has died in the western state of Rajasthan after observing a controversial religious custom.

Amar Chand, 76, died on Monday after observing "santhara", a centuries-old Jain practice where a person starves to prepare spiritually for their death.

Campaigners want the practice banned, saying it is similar to suicide.

Last week a Jain woman, 60-year-old Vimla Devi, died in the state capital, Jaipur, after fasting for 14 days.

'Salvation'

Mr Chand's family members in the city of Ajmer said he had been ill for some time and decided to fast last Friday.

"He attained salvation by observing santhara," Mr Chand's daughter-in-law, Suman, said.

Two more women in the state - Kela Devi and Dhanni Devi - are observing the practice and have given up eating.

Jain Samta Vahini, an organisation representing the Jain community, has claimed that every year, around 100 people observe "santhara" to attain salvation.

"It is normal among Jains and we regard it with utmost respect," the group's General Secretary, Sohan Mehta said.

"It is very unfortunate that a section of the society is questioning santhara and equating it with suicide or sati," he said.

Sati is the ancient Hindu practice in which women die on their husband's funeral pyre.

Mr Mehta said Jains would stage a sit-in at Jodhpur on 4 October against the questioning of this practice.

'Like suicide'

A writ petition challenging the practice of "santhara" is currently before Rajasthan High Court.

The court has fixed 5 October for the hearing.

''We will present our view about santhara because the practice is like suicide," said Madhva Mitra, the petitioner's lawyer.

The petitioner has also referred the matter to Jaipur police, who say they are "collecting literature" about the practice.

Jains make up about 1.28% of Rajasthan's population.


SEE ALSO
Dispute as woman fasts to death
29 Sep 06 |  South Asia
Probe into deaths by starvation
18 Oct 02 |  South Asia

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