Aruna Shanbaug (1 June 1948-18 May 2015) symbolised many things. She was a thorn that pricked our collective conscience, a case of an innocent suffering for no fault of hers, a case for euthanasia or mercy killing, a symbol of hope for humanity as she was looked after for 42 years by nurses and doctors who cared and even, a poking truth that when you have only your beating heart as a sign of life and you lie on bed helplessly without any knowledge of the outside world, you will have none by your side, not even your family. Aruna had 9 sisters but no one allegedly came forward to volunteer for her care. Aruna was still lucky, there were her colleagues who decided to stand by her.
The man, the culprit, who took his revenge, on the woman for reporting his malpractices, in the most inhumane way, was let off after serving just seven years in prison, for attempt to murder. A question arises, why did anyone not take notice on his acquittal that the person whom he ‘attempted to murder’ is no longer alive, as a ‘normal’ person would be and why was then another case not charged on him by treating this crime as one of the ‘rarest of the rare cases’? No one paid any heed and the man is reported to have started life afresh somewhere. He was not punished for lifetime for a heinous act but Aruna was serving a brutal ‘life sentence’ just for fulfilling her duty. Where is justice?
Once in a while, Aruna’s story reappeared on newspaper pages, reminding us of how cruel destiny could be and how inhuman a human being could be. We read Aruna’s updates with a heavy heart, shed a tear or two and then, got back to our life. Has sexual harassment at workplaces stopped after November 27, 1973, the day Aruna was brutally attacked at her workplace? Were women safer after November 27, 1973? It is shocking that in our country, monstrous crimes find followers, and we soon hear similar incidents all throughout. Our law does not seem to be a deterrent. There were more Arunas, though referred to differently as acid attack victims, gang rape survivors, etc., the irony is that none of them have won their battle but battle with their life on a daily basis. Aruna endured it silently without any awareness while the others bear the attack on their soul silently, fully aware.
Pinky Virani, the author who helmed a biography of Aruna in 1998,titled, Aruna’s Story: The True Account of a Rape and its Aftermath, filed a case for Aruna’s mercy killing in 2009 and soon Aruna became a centre of debate on euthanasia. Who decides the case for euthanasia? The person, for whom the debate is on, is not in a position to stand up and speak. It is left to the care takers to decide. Aruna’s care providers did not want to go with it. There were many who even blamed these nurses for not letting go of Aruna. Some said it was because they wanted to appear as righteous. But even then, wasn’t it great that a team of doctors and nurses stood by their decision and even kudos to the government that it did not snatch the room from Aruna and allowed her to be?
Now Aruna is no more, as per medical terms. For lakhs of us, who followed Aruna’s life, she had died on the day she was put on that bed, almost lifeless. But then medical world decides the definition of death and law puts a stamp on it, so we will have to hear terms like brain death, and so on.
I say, Aruna, Do not RIP. You have rested for 42 years but without peace, now it is the time to liberate yourself from all agony, pain and sympathy. Go dance away, laugh and smile. I am sure in that another world, you will find hundreds of things to do. Do them and live your life that you could not for 42 years. Do not RIP but be peaceful. Do I see you smiling?