NEW DELHI: A couple of days ago, news broke that a 13-year-old girl, Aradhana Samdariya, had died after undertaking a religious fast for 68 days in Hyderabad. Since then, police have booked the girl’s parents under culpable homicide [causing death by negligence] and Juvenile Justice Act [cruelty against minors].

The parents -- Laxmi Chand and Manshi Samdariya -- deny that they forced the girl to fast. They insist that their daughter voluntarily fasted as prescribed in Jainism. Aradhana lived for 68 days on boiled water and nothing else. She died two days after she gave up her fast.

The family says that "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.”

Activists, however, reject the family’s claim. Local activist Achyut Rao told the BBC that "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… The girl was made to drink only water from sunrise to sunset. There was no salt or lemon or anything else."

Most shockingly, perhaps, the girl’s death was treated as a celebration. The family took 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," Rao said.

Religious leaders in India have also defended the practices of fasting following the incident, instead of calling for restraint. In fact, after the girl completed her 68 day fast, massive celebrations were held, with hundreds of community leaders and politicians attending and taking photos with the girl.

Whatsapp messages being circulated among the city’s Jain community stating that reports highlighting the incident are attempting to defame the religion. A community meeting held on the issue stressed on the fact that the teen died of a heart attack and not starvation, and that a fast as prescribed by the religion cannot be condemned.

Jains are not the only community in India that prescribes fasting. 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.

And while it is important to respect religious sentiment, there is a need to denounce extreme practises that jeopardise the wellbeing and health of the religion’s community -- be it teenage girls, women, older men or anyone else.

Aradhana’s death has received considerable attention on social media, with many expressing shock and disbelief that such a practice not only continues to exist, but is being officially defended and even celebrated.