Mumbai News: Sadhvi’s Death Renews Debate On Road Safety

Mumbai News: Sadhvi’s Death Renews Debate On Road Safety

The All India Jain Minority Federation issued an advisory to munis and sadhvis to avoid travelling on roads at night and early morning when visibility is low and accidents are more common.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Thursday, February 22, 2024, 09:04 PM IST
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Sadhvi Maulikpurna |

Mumbai: A Jain sadhvi’s death in a road accident near Karjat on Monday has once again raised concerns about the dangers faced by Jain ascetics walking on dangerous roads, visiting community members and shrines.

After the accident, the All India Jain Minority Federation issued an advisory to munis and sadhvis to avoid travelling on roads at night and early morning when visibility is low and accidents are more common.

Accidents of munis and sadhvis a major concern

There have been regular reports of such deaths on dangerous roads with heavy vehicle movement and no pedestrian lanes. One estimate says that an average of 20 munis and sadhvis die in road accidents annually.

In the latest accident, Sadhvi Maulikpurna, who was in her fifties, and two women lay companions, who were travelling from Karjat to Neral as part of a group, were hit by a van at around 5.40am. The driver has been arrested. The body of the nun was cremated in Lonavala later in the day.

Social media groups in the community have been sharing details of the accident. “The impact of the vehicle was so bad that the sadhvi’s body was mangled. It was traumatic to see the pictures,” said a community member.

Karjat incident most distressing: Jain body chief

“While there have been accidents in the past, the Karjat incident was the most distressing,” said Lalit Gandhi, national president of All India Jain Minority Federation.

In 2022, after one such traumatic incident, the Gujarat government asked the police to provide security to groups of sadhus and sadhvis travelling by foot. However, there are demands for a more lasting solution to the problem.

Community members said that the issue was raised at a meeting of the National Commission for Minorities in 2014 when the Jains were declared as a religious minority. “The Jain minority community has requested both central and state governments to build footpaths along the highways and other roads. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life. There have been orders from the courts on the need for building footpaths for Jain monks, nuns, and other pedestrians to walk on,” said Dhanpal Solanki, a lawyer.

Jain munis and sadhvis avoid motorised travel, and move from one shrine to another by foot, stopping at homes and monasteries for a break. These journeys, called viharas, are suspended only during chatur maas, four months during monsoon when there are religious and ethical injunctions against travel.

Community members suggest ways to avoid unfortunate deaths

Given the dangerous road conditions that make walking pilgrimages deadly, community members have even asked the sadhus and sadhvis to travel by vehicle at least for long journeys. “We want them to be accompanied by a guide who can watch out for dangerous road conditions,” said Bharat Gada of a Kutchi Visa Oswal community group. “We have also suggested that when there are no footpaths they should walk in a lane where they can keep a watch for oncoming vehicles.”

Suggestions also include using battery-powered torches when visibility on roads is low. There have also been suggestions to ask for police personnel to accompany the groups.

Others advised less stringent application of old rules. Dr Bipin Doshi, lecturer in Jain studies at the University of Mumbai, said that long viharas are not part of tradition. “It may not be possible to build footpaths on every highway and for police personnel to accompany every walking group. Avoiding travel in poor light or using reflectors to be visible to motorists can reduce accidents.”

“Efforts are being made in many places to find a way to make travel safer for the sadhus and sadhvis, but we have not been successful,” Lalit Nahta, a community member, said.

Suspicion of foulplay

Monday’s accident also rekindled theories about the involvement of extremist groups based in Rajasthan. Girushbhai Shah of Samast Mahajan Samaj said, “The group in Karjat was following safety instructions. They were accompanied by residents who were guiding them. I think the accident was deliberate.”

“We have asked for an inquiry into these reports,” said Gandhi.

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