It was 2006. 60-year-old Bimla Devi Bansali of Jaipur had been suffering from terminal cancer of the brain and liver. The Jain woman decided to perform the community's centuries-old tradition Santhara- of fasting unto death. After a fast for 13 days, she breathed her last. The same year Nikhil Soni, a lawyer in the Rajasthan High Court, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) equating the practice with suicide. Almost nine years later, on Monday, the Rajasthan High Court banned the practice, calling it unconstitutional and stating that it is "not an essential tenet of Jainism". Anyone practicing or supporting a person practicing it will be punishable under sections 309 and 306 of the IPC respectively. Treading on a rather precarious path, the government has been caught in a conflict to protect two rights- Right to life and right to freedom of religion- which contradict each other on some level. A spate of Santhara deaths, including Bimla Devi's at that time, is said to have sparked off a nationwide debate about the practice and its possible misuse. Santhara is a religious fast unto death, voluntarily practiced by followers of Jainism. It can be undertaken by people whose death is certain and imminent- like those suffering from an incurable-disease or old-age. Speaking to The News Minute, Soni says Santhara is in violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The lawyer, who hails from Jaipur, had grown up at a time when the practice was popular and widely followed. As a student of law, he researched about the practice and what irked him was the glorification of Santhara. "When euthanasia is not permissible, fasting to death as a form of protest is not allowed, then how can santhara be permitted just on the grounds of religion?," he says. Proponents of Santhara state that apart from those ill, sadhus too can adopt the practice, according to their religious texts. "Those ill or about to die in fact need extra care and attention and we can't deprive them of that. Besides how many sadhus have you heard of adopting the practice?" he asks. The Jain community has not taken the judgment kindly and has appealed to the PM to move the Supreme Court against the order. Referring to the case of Aruna Shanbaug, a former nurse who died in May this year died being in a vegetative state for 42 years, Soni says that when she was not allowed permission to die, there’s no reason others should expect a different rule for them. "Right to life cannot be regarded as the same as right to death," he asserts. Some also feel that it is not for the court to decide and control how people practice their religion. Justice (retd.) Pana Chand Jain, a former judge of the Rajasthan High Court who has been vocal in his support of Santhara, is of the opinion that not only was the petition flawed, the HC's judgement too "suffers from inherent defects". Jain dismisses the theory that Santhara is practiced to attain moksha- freedom from the cycle of life and death. "If you could attain moksha just by fasting, wouldn't that be too easy a way?" he asks. The purpose, he says, is to purge one's karma and reduce the burden on the soul. In the Gian Kaur case in 1996, a five judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court, said that though right to life did not include right to die, "right to live with dignity" included "right to die with dignity". When life is ebbing out, Santhara can be a way to reduce the span of suffering and a person can die a dignified death. However, the retired judge dismisses all comparisons of santhara with suicide or even sati, which according to him is often driven by depression or coercion. Comparing it to the Hindu rituals of fasting or “vrath”, he asks, “Women who observe vrath also fast for several days. Will the state then take action against them?" "How I observe my religion also includes how I practice it and it is not part of the court's jurisdiction to dictate it," he says. In a battle between religion and state, the latter has won today. But, from what it seems, it is far from over.