13yo Indian girl dies after 2-month holy fast

© K.vishnupranay
A 13-year-old girl has died in Hyderabad, southern India, after completing a two-month holy Jain fast amid allegations she was coerced.

Aradhana Samdariya fainted and fell into a coma after completing a 68-day fast during the Jain holy period known as Chaturmas before dying of cardiac arrest, Indian media reported Thursday. 

Over the course of the 68 days, Aradhana was not allowed any food, including fruits and vegetables, and was given drinking water only until 6 p.m. At the end of the fast a massive celebration known as “paarana” was held at the family’s house, and local officials including parliamentarian B. B. Patil and minister Padma Rao Goud were pictured at the event. However, shortly afterward Arandhana collapsed from dehydration and passed away in the early hours of October 3. 

“We did not admit her and gave the family [a] brought-dead certificate. However, doctors who examined her observed that she might have got cardiac arrest and renal failure due to imbalance of electrolytes in her body,” Dr. Alok Malik of the Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences told the Hindustan Times.

Over 600 people attended Aradhana’s funeral procession, which was less an expression of mourning and more of a celebration, or Shobha Yatra, where the teenager was hailed as “bal tapasvi,” or one who achieves spiritual purity through suffering. However, many also expressed their disgust at how a teenage girl was allowed, or possibly even coerced, into starving herself.

“It has been a practice for people to undertake severe penance when they give up even food and water,” Lata Jain, a member of the local community, told Indian news channel NDTV. “They are glorified, lauded and honored 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. This is suicide, if not murder.”

The Andhra Pradesh Child Rights Association has lodged a police complaint against the girl’s parents, alleging that they forced Aradhana into taking the fast after being told by a religious guru that it would help bring prosperity to the family’s jewelry business. Aradhana’s family denies the charges, saying she chose to perform the rite on her own.
“We did not hide anything,” Aradhana's grandfather, Manekchand Samdhariya, told NDTV. “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.”

Police say they are making inquiries, and will act if they find that the girl’s parents broke the law.
Jainism is an ancient Indian religion which follows a strict adherence to non-violence, and many followers do not even eat honey as its collection could amount to hurting the bees. Fasting is a common practice in Jainism to atone for one’s sins. However, fasting until death, or Santhara, is typically reserved for the elderly or terminally ill.