Religious coercion blamed for the death of an Indian teenager
A 13-year-old girl who undertook a 68-day religious fast, apparently after being told that it would improve her parents financial situation, died of cardiac arrest this week.
According to this report, her family claims that several religious heads of the community have written to them saying that Aradhana’s death is not to be mourned as a loss but to be looked upon as a matter of pride.
Aradhana’s father Lakshmichand Samdariya is now being accused by Balala Hakkula Sangh, a child rights organisation, of allowing his daughter to die in the hope of bettering his business prospects.
It is reported here that the girl observed the Chaturmas fast to bring good luck to her family. Her father had recently suffered huge loss in his jewellery business. A Chennai-based priest had advised the girl’s parents to ask their daughter to observe the fast in order to recover from the loss in business and to earn huge profits.
Psychologists point out that subtle coercion by parents can psychologically maim a child. Said Purnima Nagaraja, a clinical psychiatrist:
The messaging is important. When religion is brought into the mix, it also brings in guilt if not conformed to. The child is made to believe it is for the good of the family. What is sacrificed is the health of the minor.
Religious leaders however, deny any coercion to fast and say fasting by youngsters is not uncommon. Maharasa Ravinder Muniji, a Jain monk in Hyderabad said:
Pregnant women or those who are unwell should not fast. But there is no bar on children fasting. But how much they should fast ought to depend on their own individual capacity.
However Sanjay, (name changed), says his mother had pressured him to undertake a 11-day fast.
It was difficult but then my mother would say, if someone else is doing it, why can’t you. So I and a couple of my friends did it.
Sanjay, 16, says his parents now say what happened to Aradhana was wrong, although what she achieved is great.
I also would like to emulate her. However, I think her parents should have stopped her. It is their mistake.
Child rights activist Isidore Phillips says any religious or spiritual practice or any form of abstinence has to be age appropriate.
You cannot put the burden of religion on a child; it mars the child’s thinking. The family has the custodial responsibility of the child. In this case, it clearly failed to guide Aradhana. We need to go slow on such practices.
Horrified members of the Jain community are now raising their voice against this practice. One of them, Lata Jain said:
The problem is with the manner in which the youngsters who fast are lauded at community meetings by religious elders. If not a murder, this is a suicide.
Aradhana Samdariya was not from an uneducated family. She was a class 8 student at St Francis in Hyderabad, but she stopped going to school after starting upvaas, a fasting ritual. Her father and grandfather are in the jewellery business and own a shop in the Pot Bazaar area of Secunderabad. Her two aunts are doctors, one a paediatrician and the other a gynaecologist.