Indian woman suffering from cancer fasts to death

Hundreds of people attended the cremation of a 61-year-old woman in northwestern India after she ended her life by fasting for two weeks in an ancient and rare salvation rite of the Jain religion, news reports said Friday.

Villa Devi, who was suffering from cancer, stopped eating on Sept. 14, Press Trust of India news agency reported.

She died Thursday in the western city of Jaipur, as the state high court was considering a petition by a human rights activist trying to stop the fast.

Nikhil Soni, the activist who filed the suit, said the practice was simply a form of suicide, and said "in no case can anybody be allowed to take one's life," The Indian Express newspaper reported. Suicide is illegal in India.

The court was waiting for replies from the federal government and Jain organizations before giving its judgment.

Devi's husband, Sohan Lal Bhansali, defended his wife's decision, saying she was seeking salvation.

"She suffered from a brain tumor and blood cancer and doctors had given up hope," The Indian Express quoted him as saying, reports AP.

"Though initially we tried to convince her, she informed us that she was no more interested in worldly matters and wanted 'mukti' (salvation). We only respected her decision," he said.

Jainism, which originated in India, has nearly 4 million followers in the country. The religion's most ardent ascetics stick out for their self-denying ways and simple lifestyles: They beg for food, travel only by foot and are celibate.

They are also fanatical about protecting life sometimes to the point of donning masks to keep themselves from inadvertently inhaling insects.

Devi is survived by her husband, two sons and a daughter.