Aruna case is more about rape than just mercy killing

Four decades is a long time to change our collective attitudes towards sexual assaults in all forms.

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Published: Wed 20 May 2015, 10:26 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 7:49 PM

Aruna Shanbaug, the brain-damaged Indian nurse finally met her maker after suffering, mentally and physically, for 42 long years. Brutally raped by a hospital ward boy, Sohanlal Bhartha Valmiki on November 27, 1973, she slipped into a coma after he strangled her with a dog’s chain in such a gruesome manner that it cut the oxygen supply to her brain.

She was also left cortically blind. Shanbaug’s case captured popular imagination and triggered a huge debate on euthanasia in India. The Supreme Court heard Pinki Virani, a feisty journalist, making passionate pleas for an end to what she described as Shanbaug’s “unbearable agony”. The nurses of Mumbai’s KEM hospital, who continued to tend to one of their own, challenged Virani’s contention.

They argued that Shanbaug responded to stimulus and actually “relished” her curry, even if her food was fed through tubes. The Supreme Court , while upholding the position of the nurses’ corps, dismissed Virani’s petition in 2011, but not before allowing for euthanasia in rare cases. The law of the land changed, but n a somewhat cruel irony not for the diminutive nurse, who was at the centre of it all.

She continued to live in a vegetative state. There were more ironies to this case. Valmiki, the accused, was never charged for rape. He was instead charged with attempt to murder because he had not technically raped Shanbaug, but sodomised her after finding her menstruating at the time of the attack. When finally convicted for attempted murder, he was jailed for seven years. Why Valmiki was not charged with rape remains a question that begs an answer even today. Did the doctors who examine Shanbaug 42 years ago conceal the act of sodomy to protect her dignity and avoid her social ostracising? Was it criminal negligence on the part of hospital? Where is Valmiki? Now that Shanbaug is dead, can he be finally charged with murder? While we deliberate upon the moral and legal implications of euthanasia, we must not forget that rape is a more heinous crime than murder. Four decades is a long time to change our collective attitudes towards sexual assaults in all forms.

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