Published On : Mon, May 18th, 2015

Nurse Aruna Shanbaug passes away at age 67 after being in coma for 42 years

Aruna ShanbaugMumbai/Nagpur: Finally, unfortunate woman, for whom life for all practical purpose ended 42 years ago when she was just 25, has passed away in a Mumbai hospital and her last rites are taking place today.

Saddest story of a young woman

This is how most would look at Aruna, who has been dying very slowly but very surely, locked up in a hospital room for the last 42 years.

The below is an excerpt from a piece written by Pinki Virani, two years ago when Aruna had turned 65.
“The birthday of a woman doomed to a very painful — and very slow — death was celebrated last Friday. Outside the locked door of the room in which she is incarcerated, her care-givers posed for happy-happy photos, giving cheerful quotes about their daily devotion to her brittle bones, and how their reward is her grateful smile.

Such sanitised stories don’t matter to the woman. She doesn’t even know these people. She hasn’t known anybody, or anything, after the night of 27 November, 1973, when parts of her brain died and locked-in her broken body to its most basic functions: eat, evacuate. And so she isn’t even aware that her next birthday, 1 June, 2013, will break its own bizarre record.

When Aruna Shanbaug turns 65, she will have been locked in that room for 40 years.

After being sodomised while being strangled with a dog-chain a little after her 25th birthday, largely brain-dead, cortically blind, unable to speak or walk or have control over body movements, Aruna Shanbaug is incurable. ”

Facts of the case

Aruna was a former nurse and was from Haldipur, in North Karnataka. In 1973, while working as a junior nurse at King Edward Memorial (KEM) hospital in Parel, Mumbai.

Aruna was planning to get married to a Doctor in the hospital.

On the night of 27 November 1973, Shanbaug was sexually assaulted by Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, a sweeper on contract at the King Edward Memorial Hospital. Sohanlal attacked her while she was changing clothes in the hospital basement. He choked her with a dog chain and sodomized her. The asphyxiation cut off oxygen supply to her brain, resulting in brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury .

The police case was registered as a case of robbery and attempted murder though instead of rape. This was 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 stigma of the victim, and her impending marriage.

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 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 or the court that tried Sohanlal kept a file photo of him, Virani’s search has so far failed.[9]

Nurses’ strike

Following the attack, nurses in Mumbai went on strike demanding improved conditions for Shanbaug and better working conditions for themselves.] In the 1980s the Bombay Municipal Corporation made two attempts to move Shanbaug outside KEM to free the bed she has been occupying for seven years. KEM nurses launched a protest, and the BMC abandoned the plan.

Unaware of it herself, Aruna’s is a landmark case for Euthanasia in India

Her friend Pinky approached courts asking for mercy killing for Aruna. On December 17, 2010, Supreme Court while admitting the plea sought a report on Shanbaug’s medical condition from the KEM hospital in Mumbai and Government of Maharashtra. Later, they turned down the plea though they admitted that Aruna met most of the criterion for passive 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.Her’s is a land mark case since for the first time this form of ‘death’ received sanction from the Supreme Court.

The nurses attending on her celebrated the court’s decision by distributing cake and sweets calling it her re birth.

They took turns in looking after her till she died today.