By Apoorva Kinger:
A young, beautiful, high-spirited, strong-willed girl hailing from a small village called Haldipur (in southern state of Karnataka) reached Bombay (now Mumbai). With dreams in her eyes, she left her home at a tender age of 18. Her goals were set, she knew what she wanted in her life – a headstrong person, who was passionate about her dreams. She completed a nursing course in Bombay on her own without anybody’s support and landed herself a job as a junior nurse in the famous King Edward Memorial Hospital.
She was a strict disciplinarian, authoritative, highly responsible and efficient, amongst the best nurses of the hospital. She had a promising carrier ahead and was loved and liked by all. While working as a nurse in King Edward Memorial Hospital, she fell in love with Dr. Sundeep Sardesai. Both of them admitted the love to each other and soon got engaged. They had even fixed a date for their marriage.
On 27th November, 1973, a girl who carved her own destiny, had fallen prey to a merciless fate. Aruna Shanbaug was sexually assaulted by Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, a wweeper on contract at the King Edward Memorial Hospital. Walmiki was motivated partly by resentment for being ordered about and castigated by Aruna. Walmiki attacked her while she was changing clothes in the hospital basement. He choked her with a dog chain and sodomised her. The asphyxiation cut off oxygen supply to her brain, resulting in brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury apart from leaving her cortically blind.
But she did not die infact she sufferred bravely (and is still suffering) but the damage is irreversible both physically and mentally. Sohanlal did not only snatch her dignity but snatched her whole life, she is bed-ridden, completely dependent on the nurses of the hospital in which she once served other patients.
Following the attack, nurses in Mumbai went on strike demanding improved conditions for Aruna and better working conditions for themselves. They even succeeded in this soon as a police case was registered as a case of robbery and attempted murder on account of the concealment of anal rape by the doctors under the instructions of the Dean of KEM, Dr. Deshpande, perhaps to avoid the social rejection of the victim, and her impending marriage.
Walmiki was caught and convicted, and served two concurrent seven-year sentences for assault and robbery but not for rape or sexual molestation (which could have got him a ten-year sentence by itself).
Sohanlal got released after 7 years of imprisonment and Aruna still traumatised, is locked up in her own body to wait for a slow, painful death. Strange, the rapist is not even punished, but the victim is still suffering.
Aruna’s family abandoned her after the hospital started insisting that they should take her home. Eventually, for Aruna her home became the same hospital where she used to serve whole heartedly. She occupies the same room outside ward 4 of the hospital since 38years.
She is in Permanent Vegetative State (PVS). Her pain is incurable and condition irreversible. In 2010, Pinki Virani, Aruna’s friend and activist-journalist filed a petition for euthanasia for Aruna Shanbaug. The Supreme Court praised Ms Virani’s concern, but ruled that her relationship with the patient does not give her right to petition on Ms Shanbaug’s behalf for a mercy killing. The only party that can appeal for euthanasia for Ms. Shanbaug was the staff of KEM Hospital which has nursed her since 38 years.
Aruna ‘s case is a landmark, while rejecting Virani’s plea for Aruna Shanbaug’s euthanasia, the court laid out guidelines for passive euthanasia. While the hospital staff rejoices over the verdict of the court by cutting cake and distributing sweets, they describe it as Aruna’s rebirth. On the other hand, Virani said “because of the Aruna Shanbaug case, the Supreme Court of India has permitted Passive Euthanasia, which means that Aruna’s state will worsen with persistent diarrhoea as her body cannot handle much of that being put through the pipe; no catheter to catch body fluids and waste matter which excrete themselves; lengthening response times due to a ‘sinking’. But, because of this woman who has never received justice, no other person in a similar position will have to suffer for more than three-and-a-half decades.”
To live or not to live, it is a decision which can only be taken by the person who is concerned. In Aruna’s case, she is not able to tell her decision, so this becomes all the more difficult. Whether to relieve Aruna from her present state or to give her a right to live till she dies a natural death – its a tough call. In my opinion, she has a right to live her life, we cannot decide for her, we have no right to end anybody’s life. We can only pray for her.