Rajasthan High Court judgment (Nikhil Soni vs. Union of India & Ors. Civil Writ Petition No.7414/2006) declaring the Jain practice of Santhara or Sallekhana illegal has drawn strong reactions from Jain community. The court has ruled that Santhara is not an “essential tenet” of Jainism and held it akin to suicide. A person undertaking Santhara does not eat or drink anything and as a result starves to death within a few days. The ritual is marked by great social and religious fervour and the person undertaking it is treated like a saint. The court has also declared the practice punishable under sections 306 and 309 of the Indian Penal Code.

The Rajasthan High Court on 10th August, 2015 declared the practice of ‘Santhara’ or ‘Sullekhana’, a Jain ritual of voluntary and systematic fasting to death as illegal, and directed the State to treat it as an offence punishable under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code and its abetment thereof under section 306 of the Indian Penal Code.

The ruling came in a PIL filed by Nikhil Soni who had sought a declaration that the practice is illegal on the ground that it amounted to suicide, which is a criminal offence and is punishable under section 309 IPC. No practice or belief or tenet, which is abhorrent to public order, morality and health and violates other provisions of the Part-III, namely, Article 21, can protect the religious practice. The petitioner describing the practice of Santhara as abhorrent to modern thinking, submitted that no religion howsoever historical, pure or revered, can permit or allow a person to commit death by choice. The fast until death is nothing but a self-destruction in whatever form and belief it may be, and that fundamental right to freedom of religion cannot protect a criminal act as it is subject to public order, morality and health.
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