On the night of 27 November 1973, a nurse of the KEM hospital who was changing into a beautiful pink sari and was off to see her fiancée after a hard day’s work was assaulted sexually by a ward boy cum sweeper Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki. And you want to know the reason behind it? Well the reason was that she had publicly criticized him for stealing the food that was meant for the hospital dogs. After assaulting her and still not pleased, he strangled her with a dog chain thereby cutting the air and blood supply to her brain. She was discovered after 11 hours, exceptionally still alive. But the miracle was a mock for her.
She was being treated in the KEM hospital. In 2009, after she had been in this state for 36 years, Pinki Virani filed a petition seeking a peaceful death for Aruna and that the force nursing should be stopped. But, the nurses and management refused to grant the permission for passive euthanasia.
For 42 years she remained a patient in the KEM hospital and was allotted a separate room even after the scarcity of beds in the hospital. She was like a kid to the management of the hospital who had been serving her ever since. All the nurses and staff of the hospital took great care of her and she was like a family to them.
In a country like India, where rape laws have never been strict, this was a slap on the face of the government and law. The accused was never convicted of rape, sexual molestation, or sexual offence; he was rather sentenced for robbery and assault. He was to serve two seven year sentences but he only served a 6 year sentence on the contrary to getting a life time imprisonment for sexual assault, rape and molestation.
We live in a country where if a girl is fully covered from head to toe she is considered a “behenji”, and if she wears miniskirts and shorts she is considered to be of lose character. Walking alone out of my house after sun sets has become a rare sight. Why is this that our parents don’t trust the society anymore? Is it because of the nirbhaya incident or thousands after and before that which didn’t come in the lime light? We are promised to have equal rights but in the end because of danger of being raped or kidnapped we are denied those rights. Female foeticide has reduced to a great extent but the numbers of rapes keep on increasing day by day. All a girl carries in her fate is threat of being killed either before being born or when she is young.
However, the death of former nurse Aruna Shanbaug on 18th May left the staff of KEM hospital heartbroken.
Her death brings an end to the torture that she may not even have been aware of, but it keeps a set of painful questions in front of us as a society that how is it fair to allow a human to live in such a state for so long? We all possess a constitutional right to life, but can Aruna’s condition be considered as living? It also posed a controversial topic of passive euthanasia being authorized. How should the society and government decide when to pull the plug?
Unacquainted of her undesirable fame, the 67-year-old became India’s metaphor for the right to life. Did she want that right?