Heard of Aruna Shanbaug?
Twenty five year old Aruna Shanbaug was sexually assaulted on the night of 27 November 1973, by Sohanlal Walmiki, a sweeper at the King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, in Mumbai. 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 apart from leaving her cortically blind. Unable to speak or walk or have control over body movements, Aruna Shanbaug entered a permanent vegetative state. She remained in this state for 43 years, in KEM Hospital, becoming the world’s oldest comatose patient.
- Aruna’s family abandoned her after the rape when the hospital started insisting that they take her home.
- A police case was registered as robbery and attempted murder, on account of the concealment of anal rape, under the instruction of the Dean of KEM. It was perhaps to avoid the social rejection of the victim.
- 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).
- On a petition filed by author Pinky Virani for euthanasia, the Supreme Court turned down the mercy killing petition on 7 March 2011. The court, in its landmark judgment, however allowed passive euthanasia in India, involving withdrawal of treatment or food that would allow the patient to live.
- The nursing staff at the hospital, opposed this petition, and looked after Aruna till her end.
Aruna Shanbaug finally passed away on 18 May 2015.
The case raises valid questions
1) Has our judicial system improved in terms of delivering justice to the rape victim?
2) Rape victims still face a whole lot of social stigma. There are still families which either disown the victim or worse, get them married to the rapist! In what way is this justified?
Until we are able to answer these, the killer or rapist would just walk amidst us.