The Fast and the Fastidious – Religion claims 13 year old’s life

Don't Herd Children into your own Baptismal Poolsl

Don't Herd Children into your own Baptismal Poolsl

Who Was Aradhana Samdariya?

Aradhana Samdariya was a 13 year old girl, born into a reasonably wealthy Jain family in the southern city of Hyderabad. Aradhana may have been born ordinary, but her death certainly has sent the country into a state of shock. On Tuesday, 4 October, 2016, the class 8 student died of cardiac arrest, after having observed a fast for 68 days. The ‘Chaturmas’ fast observed by the girl was meant to bring good luck to her family and make up for the huge losses sustained by her father Laxmichand Samdariya in his jewellery business.

The Fast And The Fastidious

According to news reports, Aradhana started to observe the fast on the advice of a Jain priest who suggested this as the solution to their business woes and as a method of earning huge profits. Through the 68 days, the child is believed to have given up all food and beverages completely and survived only on boiled water. The completion of fast, ‘Paarana’, was celebrated with great pomp and attended by many religious leaders and even a Telangana state minister. On the completion of the 68 day fast, Aradhana had been on liquid diet and even as her condition turned precarious, her family did not rush her to a hospital. On the second day, the child fell unconscious as her blood pressure and other vital parameters dipped. As she was being taken to KIMS Hospital in Secunderabad, the child experienced a cardiac arrest and died.

‘Shoba Yatra’ And More

If Aradhana Samdariya’s death happened to leave you in shock and disbelief, read on for anger to set in. Instead of mourning the death of their daughter, the parents celebrated the passing with a ‘Shobha Yatra’. Aradhana’s corpse was dressed as a goddess and taken out in a procession that was attended by over 600 people from the community. The child was claimed to have attained Moksha by the religious leaders and the family advised not to hold mourning rituals. The child and her parents were very religious and were planning on seeking ‘deeksha’ or monkhood, said close family members and relatives.

Reports say that this is not the first time Aradhana has undertaken such a fast. In 2014, the child fasted for eight days at a stretch and later in 2015, she undertook a 34 day fast. Her younger sister is also known to undertake such rigorous fasts in keeping with religious dictates.

How Did This Fast Go Unnoticed?

In the time of smartphones and social media it comes as a real surprise that a 68 days’ fast undertaken by a girl barely in her teens went completely unnoticed till it claimed her life. At an age when most children are clamouring to create an identity on Facebook, Aradhana dropped out of school and fasted at home. For the first 25 days, this student of St Francis School in Secunderabad carried with her only a bottle of boiled water. As her body started to give way, she stopped attending school and neither her friends nor her teachers and principal seem to have checked on her wellbeing. But this may have been the household norm, since Aradhana and her sister seem to have skipped school quite often in favour of religious education at home.

Religiously Inclined Not Forced

An FIR has been registered against Aradhana’s parents at the Monda Police Station. According to the city police, Laxmichand Samdariya and his wife Manshi Samdariya have been booked under  IPC Section 304 (II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of IPC and section 75 of the Juvenile Justice Act. In their defence, the parents have issued statements that the child was religiously inclined and was not forced to undertake the fast. “We asked her to stop after 51 days but she would not give up. Her fast was voluntary. No one forced her,” the father claimed.

The question that we are now asking, however, is why they did not force her to live?

Does a 13 year old’s judgement to forsake food overtake her parents’ and society’s concerns for her wellbeing? The parents claim they did their bit by keeping her from seeking deeksha at the age of 11 and asked her to wait till she turned 16.

Religion To The Defence

Jain religious leaders have jumped to the rescue of the parents, claiming that fasting is an integral part of the religious practices followed by this minority community and that coercion is not part of the practice. Children willingly undertake the fast and are not prohibited.

Glorifying Aradhana’s fast unto death and absolving parents of any responsibility may set a dangerous precedent and could inspire other youngsters to take up impossible goals, fear psychologists. The sanction of religion may push youngsters to view fanaticism as an acceptable lifestyle – a very dangerous proposition in today’s world.

Let Us Not Place Religion Above Humanity

India is a land which is well known for both – the practice of extreme austerities in the name of religion and for the peaceful coexistence of myriad religious beliefs. As Indians, we have come to accept and accommodate the different manifestations of faith, even the ones that make us cringe.

From infantile circumcision to fire treading to self flagellation and other rigorous undertakings – we have seen it all. And accepted them as matters of individual choice. But when one such choice takes away the life of a 13 year old girl – a child who should have been at the start of a glorious and industrious life – it is perhaps time we allow religion to step down in favour of humanity.

Let us discharge our parental and societal duties of keeping each and every child well-fed and healthy, rather than asking them to discharge their religious duties by fasting unto death.

It is time we stop accepting insanity in the name of faith and start teaching our children lessons of strength, kindness, and compassion rather than religion.

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