Mikaela Chase

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Johns Hopkins U.

Grant number

Gr. 9753

Approve Date

October 24, 2018

Project Title

Chase, Mikaela O., Johns Hopkins U., Baltimore, MD - To aid research on 'Confronting Asceticism: Law, Ethics, and the Right to Life in the Jain Fast to Death,' supervised by Dr. Veena Das

MIKAELA O. CHASE, then a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, received a grant in October 2018 to aid research on ‘Confronting Asceticism: Law, Ethics, and the Right to Life in the Jain Fast to Death,’ supervised by Dr. Veena Das. This research examines Jains’ legal and moral positions as ‘ascetic persons’ within the Indian secular milieu. Asceticism and its inscription on the body form the central ideal of Jainism and saturate the texture of lay life and practice. Its ethical practices, enacted mostly by women, include a fast until death called santhara. Santhara is the ultimate expression of an ascetic ethic in which the ideal relation to the world is realized through complete withdrawal from it. Public interest litigation claimed that this expression of the ascetic mode is incommensurable with the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, constituting illegal suicide. Jains deny that santhara is suicide and claim the practice is protected under the right to religious freedom in Article 25. This project entailed ethnographic field research in Delhi and Jaipur with Jains undertaking santhara as well as actors in the realm of legal recognition and adjudication, including scholars, community leaders, and advocates involved in preparing amicus briefs. This research culminated in a dissertation titled Ideality and Impossibility in the Contemporary Practice of the Jain Fast Until Death, engaging questions around Indian law and religion, gender and the body, and ethics and politics of life.