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Indian police open probe against parents of 13-year-old who died after 68-day fast

Activists and police have criticized the family of a young girl who died after a long fast. While prolonged fasting is quite common in India's Jain community, authorities say children shouldn't carry out the practice.

Police in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad said on Monday that a local couple was under investigation after their teenage daughter starved to death following a religious fast. The 13-year-old Aradhana Samdariya reportedly died of cardiac arrest shortly after calling off her 68-day-fast.

"On Sunday, we booked a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against her parents and family. We have to investigate whether there was any coercion by the family," a city police official told German news agency DPA, adding that the family have also been charged with violating the juvenile justice act.

Fasting is usual amongst India's minority Jain community, an ancient religion that believes in strict self-discipline and non-violence. About 1 percent of India's 1.25 billion people adhere to Jainism.

Aradhana's parents, well-to-do jewelers in Hyderabad, said that their daughter had wanted to become a Jain nun. They had given her permission to do a 7-week fast, but, they said, she refused to give up - and continued to live on boiled water for another 17 days.

"She asked permission for upvaas (the fast). We asked her to stop after 51 days, but she would not give up," her father Lakshmichand Samdariya told a local broadcaster. "Her fast was voluntary. No one forced her."

Activist: Parents are culpable

Achyuta Rao, an advocate for children's rights, condemned the Samdariyas, saying that a child could not decide for his- or herself to undertake such a serious, life-threatening endeavor, and that her family "should have stopped and not encouraged her."

Many Indians shared Rao's outrage on social media, accusing Samdariya's parents of encouraging religious fanaticism.

If her parents are tried, they could face up to 10 years in prison. At one point, a state court forbade prolonged fasts amongst Jains as tantamount to suicide, but India's Supreme Court later overturned the ruling on religious freedom grounds.

es/tj (AP, dpa)

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