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

Preliminary abstract: My 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. Legal activists have recently 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 vehemently deny that santhara is suicide, and claim the practice is protected under the right to religious freedom in Article 25. My research examines how Jains defend the ethic of asceticism and its expression as voluntary death within the law, and how santhara exceeds the scope of existing constitutional ethics around life. Taking up the ethical disposition embodied by women in santhara, this research also considers how legal regulation of santhara risks subsuming and obscuring a feminine ascetic mode of ethics, experience, and identity. The central questions of this project ask: How is the Jain ethic of asceticism transformed through legal disputation? Given the Indian state’s legal commitment to life, how does it recognize or accommodate the ethicality of the ascetic mode?