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India: A Jain girl’s fast unto death - regressive / dangerous religious practices that endanger children’s lives

27 March 2017

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Hindustan Times, March 27, 2017


Jain girl’s fast-unto-death: Closure of case will embolden religious groups

Aradhana’s family, it is reported, influenced the child to undertake this fast in the hope that this would better the family’s jewellery business, which had run into debt.

It should have been an open and shut case, but five months after 13-year-old Aradhana Samdariya died after a 68-day fast in Hyderabad, the police find they have to drop the case against those responsible for lack of evidence.

The police have either been extremely shoddy in their work or are acting under pressure from the powerful Jain clergy, which sanctioned the little girl’s fast in the first place. After her death due to a cardiac arrest brought on by extreme nutritional deprivation, the police had registered a case of culpable homicide and one under Section 75 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, for wilful neglect of a child.

It is inexplicable why this was not done during the highly publicised fast that the girl undertook ostensibly to improve her father’s business fortunes. The explanation that there is no technical evidence or witnesses does not wash, the child was visited by several politicians during her fast, advertisements were taken out about it and her school knew of this. Above all, her parents knew, though they argue that she undertook this voluntarily.

But the question is, was a young girl in a position to make a life or death decision while in the custody of her parents? Did her family and others who witnessed this fast not have the duty to stop it and save her life? The clerics of the community argued that this was a tradition in their religion and could not be questioned. But the death of a child cannot be explained away as being part of tradition, the coercive element in this fast amounts to child abuse which led to fatal consequences.

Similarly, when children in Tamil Nadu undertook body piercing to appease the gods and save the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa, it was explained away as being part of tradition. Nothing justifies any tradition or religious practice which harms children.

Aradhana’s death and the fact that people who were responsible for her well being have got of scot free sets a dreadful example to other young children that this is somehow a noble thing.

It will also encourage religious groups and sects who prescribe regressive and dangerous practices for children – an example is burying children for a few seconds in certain areas of Karnataka to cure them of physical disabilities, another is throwing babies off a 50-foot tower to be caught below in Maharashtra to negate bad luck. These are practices that must be resisted in the interest of child rights. The Aradhana case should have been a test case, instead it has fallen apart putting the lives and well being of more children in danger.


The above editorial from Hindustan Times is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use