jain monk
A Svetambara sect monk at a Jain temple in Mumbai [Representational Image]Creative Commons/Andrew Robertson

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on Thursday urged the Rajasthan High Court to reconsider its decision to ban the ancient Jain starvation ritual 'Santhara'.

The ritual, also called Sallekhana, is the voluntary starvation to embrace death. The Shwetambar sect of the community, which practises the age-old ritual, considers it the ultimate way to attain moksh (salvation) when one's life has served its purpose.

"Santhara was/is never a suicide attempt by Jain-muni as it is meant to get moksh from exisiting life and punarjanam (rebirth) and it is a 2,500-year-old ritual since Bhagwan Mahaveer," state VHP president Narpat Singh Shekhawat said at a press conference in Jaipur.

"We do respect the Rajasthan High Court's verdict banning Santhara, but the decision was taken in absence of proper defence, evidences and justification by Jain Samaj, hence it should be reconsidered," he added.

On 10 August, the high court had declared that the Jain starvation ritual is illegal, making it punishable under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 309 (attempt to commit suicide) and 306 (abetment of suicide).

The ritual was banned following a public interest litigation filed by human rights activist Nikhil Soni about a decade ago, claiming that the ritual is a social evil that should be considered a suicide.

Asked whether the Hindu right wing organisation will support the "silent march" of Jain community on 24 August, Shekhawat said, "Wherever VHP's support is required we will do it. We will participate in their agitation."