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2011 March 7 [Monday]

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!

UPDATE: Tasting crystals of sugar fed by sister Sugandha Rokade in her mouth, nurse Aruna Shanbaug, 62, cried out, “Aaah!” when she was told about the Supreme Court judgment.

2009 March 5 [Thursday]

Sexual assaults in public spaces

I've changed the title of this post thrice because I refuse to dilute sexual harassment and assaults by calling it eve-teasing -- sounds frivolous and trivialises crimes against women.

India in the 21'st century is definitely unsafe for women, even if she is accompanied by a man and nobody seems to care enough about public sexual harassment to act on it. I've had to warn many female (and male) friends visiting India to NOT travel alone or even in groups of 4-5 women as they dont know the local language and without men in their group its inviting trouble. Saying that about your country sucks big time.

On Monday after a protest was held outside the police commissioner's office, Shankar Bidari, the police commissioner of Bangalore said :

"Bangalore people are so cultured people they will never tolerate any indignity, harassment or assault on women. Even without police and without government, the dignity of women in Bangalore city is perfectly safe and protected,"

I wish !!  One of the women who was attacked describes her ordeal and after reading this article, its deeply disturbing that the PC who is responsible for the safety of the city's citizens has trivialized the issue with insensitive press statements but didnt the Home Minister Dr V S Acharya and District In-Charge Minister J Krishna Palemar called the pub attack and MLA’s daughter’s abduction as ‘small and common’ incidents and scream at the media reporter to "not waste his time with silly incidents" ?! There was a photograph of the Police Commissioner (check out "After hrs" last page of Bangalore edition of DNA newspaper dated 2009mar05) calmly enjoying the Mysore Maharaja's birthday bash on Tuesday at Palace Grounds Palace because : None of the women noted the assailants bike numbers, hence NOTHING can be done.

WRONG, Mr. Bidari, Bengaluru is not safe...... INDIA is not safe for women. I can narrate my experiences too BUT do you even want to listen to women like Archana and others who were attacked ?!

Join us :

Women in Bangalore are facing serious violence and attacks - for wearing jeans, going out in the streets, fighting back the moral police etc and we need to stop these attacks. This is a letter to the police commissioner/home minister/press release regarding the recent attacks on women in bangalore,

Endorse the petition at : http://www.petitiononline.com/petition.html


FRI, Mar06 :
Please come to ALF [Phone : 080-2286 5757] on Friday anytime between 2-6pm to make posters for the protest at the DGP'S office on saturday.. Charts and colours will be provided but feel free to bring your own and you can bring money you would like to contribute. Alternative Law Forum, 122/4 Infantry Road, (opposite Infantry Wedding House), Bangalore 560001, (nearest bus stop- Shivajinagar Depot)

SAT, March07:
1. Gather at Nrupathunga Road at 15:30.  (Parking available at YMCA, DG's office compound, etc.)  Stand on either side of the road, outside DG-IG's office, holding placards, silently.
2. Either the DG-IG comes out at 16:30 collects the memorandum and addresses the audience, or a small representative group goes in to his office when called and present the memorandum.
3. If the latter, then the representatives will address the gathering, when they come out.
4. Gathering shall disperse at 17:30.

SUN, March08:
0. On Sunday 2009March08, International Women's Day,members of the group and other citizens will walk down various prominent roads of the city. Its called "Take Back the Night Walk" and is being held by women to reclaim our lawful right to be safe at night across India. It starts at Indiranagar, Ulsoor and the other two places where the women were attacked
1. At 18:00, people will gather at the five locations as designated by the area coordinators.  They will interact with the audience (in as many languages as possible), and spread awareness about the various goals of the Fearless Karnataka campaign.   This will involve spreading of information flyers and testimonials, conducting bystander polls, and other such forms of interaction with the people on the streets.  This can go on till 20:00.  (Volunteers for poster-sticking will do so around this time.)
2. At 21:00, people gather at the designated spot in Majestic, bringing along with them necessities such as food, water, and community spirit.  There will be further performances, video projections (if possible), songs, and other such activities there.
3. This will go on till 23:00, when people will disperse in their vehicles (pooling as much as possible), in public transport, tempos (which are currently being investigated), etc.

[updated, from FKNK]

2009 February 9 [Monday]

Pink

I've always had an intense dislike for pink, "red" being a favourite but this post is not about my colour preferences. My last blog post on women being assaulted and the Sita Sene, elicted a response on irc from HBD that a women's gang already exists. Calling themselves the Gulabi Gang, these women form a co-operative of sorts to help suppressed women like themselves in UttarPradesh. Back home, our local chakkiwala is from UP so I must ask his wife about the GulabiGang. Gosh, the video with lathi-wielding lessons are cool but someone should teach these women better self-defence techniques, especially sans weapons. Women can but its inconvenient to walk around with a lathi always.... but I digress. If the lathi delivers results for them, it stays :)

Moving south, as if the assault on the MLA's daughter was not enough, now the RamaSene plans to send hooligans to spy on Bangaloreans on 14feb. These thugs will be armed with turmeric (yeah in their excitement the culture-vultures forgot the difference between kumkum and turmeric) and anyone found celebrating Valentine's day, would be forced to marry each other. Huh?....right there on the road? So what will the sene-thug do if they find : two men are holding hands, a brother and sister are holding hands, two women are holding hands or an already married couple are holding hands? ...Erm... Will they be forced to apply kumkum turmeric and marry each other? On a pedantic note, between two men holding hands, which man gets to be the man(?), since its usual practice for a man to apply the kumkum on the woman's forehead. Now the Taliban-Sene has to use this body part (instead of brawn) to realise that the religion they (mis)use does not discriminate .... Nature is cruel, but ..wait, isnt nature feminine...?... so its all the loose woman's fault. Yeah, right !!

Renuka Chowdhary's threat to send roses to Muthalik on a day which very few celebrate was too simple so Nisha thinks he needs pink chaddis and if you are reading this, spread this message, by blogging, tweeting, etc.. and do your bit.

<Update> Since the Alternate Law Forum office in Bangalore was flooded they have requested that contributions be sent directly to the Taliban-Sene addressed to : Pramod Muthalik, Sri Rama Sene Chief, #11, Behind New Bus Stand, Gokhul Road, Near Lakshmi Park, HUBLI - Karnataka. </Update>

I'd rather see the police and judiciary react with more spine and keep these criminals behind bars but heck that seems like a remote possibility in India. These goons have never been to temples or noticed the idols of Durga and Kali, each of who carries multiple weapons and are especially known for their war-like ferocious nature. Someone should enroll these jokers for literature and history lessons and parcel them a copy of the Kamasutra with tickets to Khajuraho in MadhyaPradesh so they can get better acquainted with the real Indian culture. On the other hand, the truth about Vatsyayana being an A(ryan)merican Westerner out to corrupt the pure bharatiya nari (indian woman) might be revealed now.

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