What is Santhara

Santhara is a Jain custom of embracing voluntary death – it involves practitioners taking an oath to stop eating until they die of starvation. According to Jains, this is a way to purge oneself of bad ‘karma’ and attain ‘moksha’.

The two sides:

Jain community Rajasthan High Court
Practitioners contend that Santhara is not an exercise in trying to achieve an unnatural death, but is rather a practice intrinsic to a person’s ethical choice to live with dignity until death. It is a ritual act of purification, done in consultation with a guru, and follows the most detailed of procedures. According to religious texts, it is permitted and is an integral part of Jainism. The court says there is no dignity whatsoever in the act of fasting, and that therefore, there exists no freedom to practise Santhara as an extension of one’s right to life under Article 21. Since 1960s, the court, on a case-by-case basis, has examined individual religious canons to determine what constituted an essential religious practice. “We do not find in any of the scriptures, preachings, articles or practices followed by the Jain ascetics, the Santhara…has been treated as an essential religious practice, nor is necessarily required for the pursuit of immortality or moksha.”