The tradition of fasting to death is called ‘Santhara’. It is glorified in Jainism, an ancient religion of India that teaches a life of renunciation. It usually applies to elderly people who feel they have entered the final phase of life with no meaningful purpose left to fulfil.
Early this month a beautiful 13 years old girl, Aradhna, from a Jain family died two days after fasting for 68 days. She lived only on boiled water for nearly 10 weeks. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/13-year-old-Jain-girl-dies-after-observing-68-day-fast-to-bring-good-luck-to-family/articleshow/54750457.cms)
According to the media, her father, a jeweller was in financial difficulty and he consulted some senior Jain monks who came up with the idea of her fasting to get the family out of that situation.
According to her father, it was her wish. She had fasted for 8 days in 2014, for 34 days last year and it ‘suited’ her. She was keen to go further this year. As 68 is an auspicious number in that faith, she wanted to fast for that many days. It was entirely voluntary. The family merely supported her wish.
According to both, the completion of the fast was marked by huge celebrations attended by 600 people. So was her funeral procession. She was anointed as a ‘divine soul’.
According to the hospital, she was brought dead from home. The family’s defense is that she was slowly recovering after breaking the fast gently with fluids and semi-solids but then she suffered a heart attack.
They certainly didn’t know of a condition called ‘Refeeding Syndrome’. When undernourished patients are re-fed there is an increased requirement for phosphate as the body switches back to carbohydrate metabolism, which can be made worse by a background of relative phosphate shortage in starvation. Phosphate levels in the blood begin to fall and mainly affect the heart and brain. So, it is more than likely that her ‘heart attack’ was because of prolonged fasting followed by unmonitored and inappropriate refeeding. (http://www.gosh.nhs.uk/health-professionals/clinical-guidelines/re-feeding)
Was this a suicide? A murder? Pure ignorance? Superstition? Religious blindness? Lack of common sense? Huge violation of children’s rights?The journey of her soul? Karma? All of the above? What values over-ride the basic instinct of parents to feed their off-springs?
It seems so wrong!