India family hit with homicide charges after schoolgirl, 13, dies from fasting

NEW DELHI (AFP) - The family of an Indian schoolgirl who died after observing a two-month fast has been charged with homicide amid allegations that she was coerced to undertake a controversial religious ritual, police said on Sunday (Oct 9) .

Aradhana Samdariya, 13, collapsed and fell into a coma two days after finishing a 68-day fast and later before died of an apparent cardiac attack in southern Hyderabad city on Oct 4.

M. Mattaiah, the investigating officer, told AFP that the girl's parents and other family members were charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder over complaints by advocacy groups that she was coerced to fast in accordance with a Jain ritual.

"As of now nothing is clear," Mattaiah said. "The body was cremated and our investigation will rely on the doctor's report. We will question the family before moving ahead."

Jainism is an ancient, non-violent religion with more than four million followers, mostly from affluent trading communities, living in India.

According to her family, Samdariya had pledged to observe the 68-day long penance known as "Chaturmas" and over the marathon fasting period was only allowed to drink boiled water twice a day.

Massive celebrations were held after Samdariya completed the fast, with hundreds of community members and politicians attending the event, and taking selfies with her.

 

Her funeral was later attended by more than 600 people, where she was hailed as a "child saint", with many celebrating her death.

Media reports said the family was advised by a priest to ask the girl to fast to bring prosperity to their business, which had recently slowed down.

Her grandfather, Manekchand Samdariya, refuted the allegations, saying they were traumatised over her death and she was fasting out of her own free will.

"It was about her faith. No one forced her to fast. She fasted for 34 days in 2015 and eight days in 2014," Samdariya told AFP.

"People came to show sympathy with the family after she died. There was no religion involved. She was quite devoted and we are not superstitious."

Fasting rituals are mostly undertaken by the elderly in Jainism, with a western Indian court last year banning "Santhara" - the voluntary custom of fasting until death.

But the order was overturned by India's apex court saying the ritual was a component of non-violence.