For more than two months, a 13-year-old in India took part in an extreme religious fast, reports the BBC. Early this month she called off that fast, but she fell into a coma two days later and died of cardiac arrest on Oct. 4—and now her parents, well-off jewelers in Hyderabad, and other family members have been charged with homicide, cops tell AFP. Aradhana Samdariya's relatives insist she chose to embark on the 68-day fast of her own volition as part of a ritual in Jainism, an ancient Indian religion that believes "the way to liberation and bliss is to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation" and whose foundation lies in the "concern for the welfare of every being in the universe." But others, including the children's rights group that filed the complaint against Aradhana's family, say the young teen was coerced, perhaps in the misguided belief it would make her father's business more profitable.
Aradhana's grandfather notes it's not the first time the girl had fasted: He says she had pulled off an eight-day fast and a 34-day fast, and so was determined to go even longer this time, partly because she was interested in becoming a nun, per the Deccan Chronicle. But a local NGO says the dad's business was faltering and the family's guru suggested having Aradhana fast for good luck. The BBC and AFP note she lived on nothing but boiled water during her fast, while others, such as Firstpost.com, say not even sips of water are permitted during the most extreme version of Jain fasting. Psychologists say that children are especially vulnerable to the guilt that may lure them into such dangerous practices. "The child is made to believe it is for the good of the family," one expert says. "What is sacrificed is the health of the minor." (Fasting helped lead to disaster at an Arizona sweat lodge.)