mukta Aruna Ramchandra Shanbhag
Tomorrow the the world will celebrate the 100th International Women's Day, but today the Supreme Court verdict rejected the mercy-killing petition of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbhag, filed by Pinky Virani the author of "Aruna's Story". In a country like India, "mercy killing" (whether passive or not) will definitely be misused by parties with vested interests and while I welcome the court's judgement on passive euthanasia, I can't help but wonder if India has done enough since then. As Usha writes, "In the 60s , Jayakantan wrote a story called “Agnipravesam” where a college girl is raped in a car on a dark rainy evening . On seeing her state when she reaches home, her poor widowed mother immediately senses what has happened. She takes her in and simply pours water on the girls head; then she tells her to treat the water as fire and feel pure again and forget the incident."
Thinking about Aruna, I am in two minds --one part of me wants her suffering to stop and it was really hard to not cry for her, for "what may have been" when I saw her hospital video being aired on every news channel, or while writing this entry, or while reading for the first time all those years ago -- Aruna's tragedy still evokes the same emotional reaction today as when I first heard heard her story all those years ago -- A pretty nurse, brutally raped by her subordinate, Sohanlal Bharatha Valmiki, as an act of revenge ; who has since 1980 been a free man -- free to marry and have a family of his own ; whose first act upon being released from jail in 1980 was to visit Aruna's room at KEM hospital and remove the bed guards, leading to her falling from the hospital bed. He probably thought Aruna would fall and die. She didnt. Presumably security was raised after this second incident and her co-nurses and doctors are her only visitors. Later the rapist moved out of the city and was last heard working in a NewDelhi hospital under an assumed name.
I met a big learned pujari who said I had a sau mein ek patrika [a rare horoscope], that I’d be a success, will live long and would go abroad..... but even if he was talking rubbish it does not matter because I know that I will become known in my field-- That was the ambitious and dynamic 25-year-old Aruna, talking to her cousin about her career plans to pursue her dreams of studying abroad. Eerily, the soothsayer's predictions to her father did come true but I doubt if this was the kind of fame they would have wished for, nor expected. Aruna, born on 1948June01, was the youngest daughter of the Shanbhag family -- consisting of her parents and siblings, six brothers and two sisters, all of who were more interested in extracting an apartment in Mumbai and financial compensation out of her tragedy. When that didnt materialize, they abandoned her to her fate.
For a woman who went against her family and rejected the life of abject poverty in the village, she did well as a nurse in Mumbai, met and fell in love with Dr.Sundeep Sardesai, who upon realising that Aruna would never be normal again, deserted her to marry another woman on 1974May01 and settled down abroad. If you knew and loved someone so deeply would you not feel any guilt for deserting them? I cannot help but wonder if Dr.Sardesai, even once, over these 37 years, ever wondered how Aruna is doing. His rejection makes me wonder if he had ever cared or loved her at all!
Apparently everyone in Aruna's life has moved on and is living a normal human life. There is no doubt that Aruna's hellish experience has made her suffer for 37 long years but mercy-killing? Killing someone who cannot make that decision for themselves isnt mercy. However which way I argue, it seems terribly unfair that others get to decide when Aruna should die. How do we have the right to make decisions on behalf of a person who, unfortunately, cannot decide for herself!
Strange as it may sound, she seems like a fighter to me -- Didnt she overcome her comatose state after the rape, albeit declared "brain-dead"/'persistent vegetative state' thence. Her tremendous will to survive reflects in the fact that despite being brain-dead she has definitely shown a will to live, and most importantly, she can breathe on her own and isnt dependent on life-aids. The nurses at Mumbai's King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital claim, Aruna responds to them when they attend to her, albeit as 'screams' or 'smiles' and they cheered at the Supreme Court's verdict that Aruna should live. For once, I am glad that the tax-payers money is being put to good use by a handful of KEM nurses and doctors.
All the people in favor of killing (err..mercy-killing) Aruna, should take a moment to wonder at her indomitable spirit her body still holds on to -- She responds to stimuli, is on a liquid diet and loves listening to music and the staff nurses and doctors of KEM care more for Aruna than her family or ex-fiance ever did. She continues to live among strangers who care enough to care for her life. Why should we deny her the right to live?
On 2011June01, Aruna Shanbhag will not know she turned 63, as she has remained oblivious to all her birthdays since 1973November27, but that is not reason enough to permit euthanasia. Let us not kill someone who, despite two murder attempts on her life, has shown such tremendous will to live. She has survived despite the odds stacked against her and she should be allowed to die when her body chooses it, naturally. That, for me, is mercy!
If reading about Aruna was heart-wrenching, writing this blog entry was equally difficult, especially because I wanted an appropriate title in Marathi, one that could reflect Aruna Shanbhag's strong never-say-die spirit, choosing to outlive her tragedy by 37 long years (and probably many more to come), only to remind Indians (and the world?) that as a society, and as a nation, we conveniently choose to forget the silent, the inconvenient, the speechless and actively deny justice to women who are rape victims. Its ironic to be forgotten by the next generation you supposedly bring forth!
In Sanskrit, "Mukta"has various meanings: "finally set free", "liberated, delivered, emancipated (esp. from sin or worldly existence)" ; as also meaning "abandoned, relinquished, given up , laid aside" ; "the quarter or cardinal point just quitted by the sun" [ironically, her first name 'Aruna'; means "the red colour of the morning sun"] ; unchaste woman; "the spirit released from corporeal existence" (a noun form). How ironic!
For me, Aruna is already mukta -- she, whose ruddy spirit wills her to live, despite the cruel betrayals by those she loved, the society and the Indian legal system! I cant even begin to imagine the pain Aruna may have gone through but instead of killing her in the name of mercy, we should be fighting to update the ancient rape laws in India -- bring them on par to those followed in developed nations like USA, Europe, et al. Lets petition to change Indian laws and make it impossible for an Aruna Ramchandra Shanbhag redux, ever! That, for me, would be true mercy towards all Indian women and each day would be Indian Women's Day!