The 13-year-old girl in the southern Indian city of Secunderabad was unusually devout, her relatives said. Even in her younger years, Aradhana Samdhariya was known to undertake strict fasts from time to time to embrace her Jain faith.
Fasting is not uncommon for Jains, a centuries-old religious sect in India that embraces non-violence as its chief tenet. Jains practice strict vegetarianism and barefoot, white-robed Jain monks carry a small brush to swipe in front of them as they walk -- lest they inadvertently kill a small creature.
Even among the faithful, Aradhana’s ritual was extreme, however. She died Oct. 3, not long after completing a 68-day religious fast allegedly supported by her parents, an affluent jeweler and his wife.
As she grew weaker, she was kept home from school, according to a report in the Indian Express newspaper. Her relatives dressed her in finery, praised her devotion and took selfies with her, reports said.
“We did not try to hide it from anyone. Everyone knew,” her grandfather, Manikchand Samdhariya, told the Indian Express.
The grandfather said that the devout girl was determined to fast and gave her parents a choice: either the extreme fast or permit her to take “diksha,” the Jain process of giving up ones’ earthly possessions and attachments in order to become a monk.
After her fast was complete, the Jain community celebrated her success in a grand ceremony, with banner advertisements of congratulations in local newspapers. The teen was “dressed up like a goddess” and driven through the streets of her community in a silver chariot, according to a report in Firstpost.
She collapsed and died of cardiac arrest shortly after. Hundreds then attended her funeral. After a local child welfare organization filed a complaint, police launched an investigation and the girl’s parents charged with culpable homicide and a violation of the juvenile justice act Sunday, police said.
The family has denied she was forced or coerced into the fast.
“The same people who came and appreciated that your daughter is doing something great are now saying, ‘You starved her to death,’" the child’s father, Lakshmichand Samdhariya, told Firstpost.
Last year, the Jains became the center of an international debate about religious freedom when a court ruled that a fasting-unto-death practice usually embraced by it elderly or critically ill — called Santhara — was illegal. Jains had argued in petitions that the ritual was central to their religious beliefs and has been practiced for centuries, but a state court ruled the practice suicide. India’s Supreme Court later allowed to continue.