A painful story and the natural end to the life of Aruna Shanbaug is one ordered by the Almighty in all His mercy. Any human intervention to apply closure to her vegetative existence can only be in the nature of murder. Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who was raped in 1973 by a ward boy at the hospital she worked in, has died after being in a coma for 42 years. She was 66.
She was a junior nurse in her 20s at KEM hospital when Shanbaug was brutally assaulted and raped by the ward boy, Sohanlal Bharta Valmiki, who she had scolded for stealing food that was meant for stray animals adopted by the hospital. She had just finished her shift, and was in the basement of the hospital changing before leaving for home. Her attacker had been lying in wait. He sodomised her and then strangled her with a dog chain, cutting supply of oxygen to her brain. She was discovered in the basement 11 hours later, blind and suffering from a severe brain stem injury. Her attacker was freed after a seven-year jail sentence. Sohanlal was caught and convicted, and served two concurrent seven-year sentences for assault and robbery, neither for rape or sexual molestation, nor for the “unnatural sexual offence” (which could have got him a ten-year sentence by itself). Journalist and human-rights activist Pinki Virani has since tried to track down Sohanlal and was led to believe that he had changed his name after leaving prison but continues to work in a Delhi hospital. Since neither the King Edward Memorial Hospital nor the court possess Sohanlal’s photo it’s difficult to trace him.
On 24 January 2011, after she had been in this status for 37 years, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for euthanasia filed by Aruna’s friend journalist Pinki Virani, by setting up a medical panel to examine her. The court turned down the mercy killing petition on 7 March 2011. However in its landmark judgment, it allowed passive euthanasia in India. While rejecting Pinki Virani’s plea for Aruna Shanbaug’s euthanasia, the court laid out guidelines for passive euthanasia. According to these guidelines, passive euthanasia involves the withdrawing of treatment or food that would allow the patient to live.
Judiciary has no issue in awarding capital punishment in ‘so called’ rarest of rare cases. However, in the cases like this, nothing moved them. However, the death of Aruna Shanbaug has put an end to 42 years of ordeal and agony. We must bow down our head in shame for the treatment meted out to her by men-folk. The women once respected and revered in this country as Goddesses, strangely raped and treated like objects of lust and greed. When it comes to women in flesh and blood, we treat them with disrespect and demean the other half of creation. The state government and the centre government, should award the nurses and hospital for serving Aruna Shanbaug for the last 40 years. At the same time, the governments at the states and center should put an end to the menace of treating women as object of sex and lust.
When she was bedridden and suffering, no political leader or page 3 celebrities ever visited her or took cognizance of her status or rendered any help to her. Now, as usual, they are pouring in their condolences for be in news and gain some publicity. This is an irony of this country’s show off and sensitivity.
Though, now a controversy erupted over the funeral, with two relatives of Shanbaug staking claim to perform the last rites. They claimed before mediapersons that all attempts to meet Shanbaug were stone-walled by the hospital authorities. However, nurses at the KEM Hospital demanded that since they had tended to Shanbaug for over four decades, they should be allowed to perform the last rites. The hospital, civic and police authorities have reportedly evolved a compromise formula by which the nurses and the two relatives shall jointly perform the funeral. Hats off from the bottom of the heart for the staff of KEM hospital, they looked after Aruna for the last four decades. My heart weeps for Aruna. It is painful and a harsh turn of fate that someone who dreamed of bestowing her life to medical care as a nurse should remain bed-ridden. She continues to fight destiny bravely and her struggle will remain unforgettable.
Can we say, she should be the last victim of the brutality of this men dominating world? Anyway, I thank God for providing her relief and freedom from this cruel world. Now, provide peace to her soul. RIP Aruna Shanbaug!