Jainism Practice Of Santhara And Conflicting Constitutional Morality
By Piyush Kumar, Chanakya National Law University, Patna.*
The Rajasthan High Court criminalized the Jain practice of ritual voluntary death, variously termed Sallekhana or Santhara in 2015. The petition that sought its criminalization, and the court judgment were both framed in the language of religious reform and invoked judicial memory of sati. The Jain defenders of the practice, insisted on its difference from sati on the one hand, and suicide and euthanasia on the other, which too continued to remain beyond the pale of legality. However, in setting it up as an ‘essential practice’, which would afford it the protection of Article 25, they simultaneously drew upon Jainism’s ethical teachings – mobilizing a range of ancient texts, providing a list of their religious figures and historical personalities who met ‘death with equanimity’ – and the moral and legal arguments utilized by euthanasia advocates, in particular the debates around the Right to Life. This paper thus examines the anxieties that have framed the debate on both sides, and asks what happens when piety and belief enter, or rather, are dragged into the courtroom: when one party seeks its denunciation and another its validation, or indifference even, from modern, rational law? The paper also examines if the High Court judgment is the result of the Christian/colonial legal legacy, which abhorred and outlawed suicide, as claimed by many commentators, by scrutinizing the colonial attitudes to Sallekhana.
Keywords: Essential Practice, Religion, Right to Die, Santhara, Suicide.
* The author is pursuing LL.M. from Chanakya National Law University, Patna.