Why should a thirteen –year old girl belonging to an affluent Jain family be allowed to fast for 68 days? The fast obviously took its toll on the child’s health because she died of cardiac arrest while on her way to the hospital in the city of Secunderabad.
Her father, who owns a jewellery shop in Secunderabad, held a grand funeral procession to celebrate her death which was attended by hundreds of members of the Rajasthani Marwari Jain community. No one from her school enquired as to why this child had stopped coming to school. The father claims he sent a message to her school, St Francis in Secunderabad , saying his daughter, Aradhana, had stopped attending school because she was performing a `religious duty’.
Child activists question why Aradhana’s parents should not be arrested in a case of abetment to suicide ?
Enakshi Ganguly, heading the NGO HAQ which focuses on children’s’ rights, points out that the IPC has made it very clear that ` children up to the age of 18 are hardly in a position to make an informed choice on a variety of subjects including subjects such as the signing of a work contract. But in this case, it was allowing a minor girl to fast for an extended period of time?’ Ganguly said.
`In this particular case, the parents of Aradhana claim they allowed it because the child was religiously inclined. The parents must be held liable because what they allowed was not in the best interest of the child,’ said Ganguly who believes that religious practices and beliefs that do not work in favour of the child cannot be accepted especially if we claim we are a secular nation.
Aradhana’s grandfather Manikchand told the cops that this child had fasted for eight days in 2014 and then for 34 days in 2015 and that she had always been religiously inclined. This was a trait she shared with her younger sister who is also keen to fast.
Manikchand believed his granddaughter could not have survived so many days if she had not received special blessings from God especially since there was a `glow and radiance’ on her face right through the period she had fasted. Friends and family members would drop by and bless this fasting child the grandfather added .
But Ganguly points out that these beliefs are at complete variance with the rights of a child listed by the United Nations and to India is a signatory. ` If you permit this, tomorrow people will say you must accept child marriage or triple talaq,’ said Ganguly.
Child rights activist Shanta Sinha says a police case must be registered and the child rights commission must take action.
Sinha has pointed out that a minor is not deemed to have a voluntary will to take decisions that can endanger their life. Religious leaders also need to re-look at what should be allowed and what is not she added.
The problem is that the police do not know what stand to take on this issue given that religious sensibilities are getting more entrenched. Inspector M M Muttaiah of Market Police Station has gone public to state that the girl’s family does not see her death as a form of suicide, or that they abetted it in any manner. ` Both (Aradhana’s ) parents are very religious and are said to be preparing to renounce everything and become monks,’ Muttaiah is reported to have stated.