Indian police are investigating the parents of a 13-year-old girl who died last week after undertaking a religious fast for 68 days.
Police in southern Hyderabad city told BBC Hindi they were probing if Aradhana Samdariya was forced to fast.
Her parents have insisted she voluntarily fasted as prescribed in Jainism, one of the world’s most ancient religions.
The case has sparked a debate about the practice of religious fasting in India.
Reports said Aradhana lived for 68 days on boiled water. Two days after she called off her fast last week, she was dead.
Experts believe it is possible for the human body to survive without food for up to two months.
A police spokesperson said a case had been registered against the parents after a child rights organisation filed a complaint.
“The parents – LaxmiChand and Manshi Samdariya – have been booked under culpable homicide [causing death by negligence] and Juvenile Justice Act [cruelty against minors] ,” the spokesperson said.
The parents, wealthy jewellers based in Hyderabad, have denied that they forced their daughter to fast.
“She asked permission for upvaas [fast that involves renouncing food]. We asked her to stop after 51 days but she would not give up. Her fast was voluntary. No one forced her,” Mr Samdariya said.
But social activists have rejected the family’s claim.
“The entire nation should be ashamed that such a practice still exists. Her father’s guru advised the family that if she fasted for 68 days, his business would be profitable,” activist Achyut Rao told the BBC Hindi.
“The girl was made to drink only water from sunrise to sunset. There was no salt or lemon or anything else.”
Mr Rao also criticised the family for taking out a funeral procession “to hail their daughter as a child saint”.
“The shocking aspect is that the family is happy that she was the rare one to be taken away by God,” he said.
Prolonged fasting is popular among Jains, who are a minority religious group in India.
Activists have often criticised another controversial practice called santhara, in which a Jain gives up food and water with the intention of preparing for death.
The death of the teenager has once again put the spotlight on such practices. Many people have taken to Twitter to express their outrage.
Fasting is not uncommon in other religions – Muslims go without food and water between sunrise and sunset during the holy month of Ramadan, Christians fast during Lent, Jews go without food during Yom Kippur and Hindus fast on various religious occasions. But none of these religions sanction fasting to starvation – and death.
However, Jain leaders have defended prolonged fasts.
“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,” Maharasa Ravinder Muniji, a Jain monk in Hyderabad, told the Firstpost website.
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