May all the evil that has been done be fruitless.
– from the ancient Prakrit prayer of forgiveness

Mother has undertaken a fast.
What fast?
You know what fast. Santhara, what else. It is time. It is the dharma.
But she never told me about it.
What do you mean by she never told you. Where do you even have the time for her any more. She has been at my place for over a year now. You were supposed to have taken her in six months. But you always have some convenient excuse, don’t you! First this…then that… Do you even realise how hard it is on my wife? We don’t live in a palace. Raju wants to join engineering next year. Do you know how much I have to pay for that? It’s not like father left me anything. I have to manage everything by myself. Your contribution is zero. And yet you have the gall to question me!
Santhara is a big decision brother. I’m just surprised she didn’t discuss it with me. I’m not questioning you. And that’s not fair. I haven’t been making excuses. You know that it’s my daughter’s second miscarriage. She’s devastated and weak. She needs me.
Whatever. I’ve told you now, haven’t I.
Since when?
Two weeks. It shouldn’t be long now.

My mother had undertaken a fast once before. When I had gone to my brother’s house to pick her up, I had found her frail and semi conscious. Reduced to skin and bones, her veins were popping up every time she tried to breathe. She had been calling several times to ask when I was coming, but now that I was here, there was no flicker of recognition, and all that came out of her was a dry elongated rasp. I panicked. Brother was still at work. I called for an ambulance.
That’s when things got really chaotic. The hospital insisted on admitting her. It was an acute case of dehydration and severe lung infection. They started an IV line. Her blood pressure was really low. She was in breathing distress. We need to intubate her, they said. I wanted to wait for my brother to come. There is no time, they said. Do you want her to die, they asked. Unless I wanted her to die, I had to sign the consent form. I did not want her to die.
My brother was furious. She’s on a fast…She’s eating only on alternate days. Who asked you to interfere.
It’s only for a few days, I pleaded, and then she’ll be fine.
The few days turned out to be over two weeks.
He wasn’t happy that he had to stay nights at the hospital. I was staying during the day. He wasn’t happy when the nurse blamed mother’s condition on malnutrition and negligence. They knew nothing about our family. He wasn’t happy with the steep pharmacy bills. I could contribute only a little without my husband’s knowledge. He tried to tell the doctor that since mother was on a fast, they should administer medication only on alternate days. The chief was very irritated and asked him to just take her home instead.
When she was a little better, I brought her home with me. It was not easy nursing her. She couldn’t digest solids. She had little control over her bodily functions. She was delirious or asleep most of the time. My husband was not happy now. She’s my mother, I told myself, I could endure some shouting for her sake.
By the time she went back to my brother’s place, she was more alert and was eating rice, curd and even some soft vegetable soup.

A year later and she was on another fast. Probably for the last time.
I could not go to her. I had my own dharma to follow. My daughter did not want me to go. My husband would not allow me to go. I will go to the temple and pray for her. I will pray for mercy for my mother. I will pray for forgiveness from my mother.
Michchhami Dukkadam…
Michchhami Dukkadam…

Khamemi Savve Jiva
Savve Jiva Khamantu me
Mitte me Savva Bhooesu
Veram Majjham Na Kenai
Michchhami Dukkadam

Translation:
I forgive all living beings
May all souls forgive me
I am on friendly terms with all
I have no animosity towards any soul.
May all my faults be dissolved.

Footnote:
“When death is imminent, the vow of sallekhanā is observed by progressively slenderizing the body and the passions. Since the person observing sallekhanā is devoid of all passions like attachment, it is not suicide.
— Puruşārthasiddhyupāya

In 2006, human rights activist Nikhil Soni and his lawyer Madhav Mishra filed a Public Interest Litigation with the Rajasthan High Court. The PIL claimed that Sallekhanā should be considered to be suicide under the Indian legal statute.
In August 2015, the Rajasthan High Court stated that the practice is not an essential tenet of Jainism and banned the practice making it punishable under section 306 and 309 (Abetment of Suicide) of the Indian Penal Code.
On 31 August 2015, Supreme Court of India stayed the decision of Rajasthan High Court and lifted the ban on santhara.

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