Right to die verdict revives nurse Aruna's memories

National | March 9, 2018, 10:03 p.m.

Mumbai, March 9 The historic verdict of the Supreme Court permitting passive euthanasia on Friday revived memories of the tragic case of Mumbai nurse Aruna R. Shanbaug, who died in 2015 after remaining comatose for a staggering 42 years.

Shanbaug, who remained in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) between November 27, 1973 and May 18, 2015 was among the longest recorded comatose patients in the world, and her pitiable condition had triggered a massive debate on euthanasia.

In 1998, New Delhi-based author Pinki Virani penned a book "Aruna's Story: The True Account Of A Rape And Its Aftermath" on the 25-year old nurse at the BMC-run KEM Hospital who was brutally sexually assaulted by sweeper Sohanlal B. Walmiki on November 27, 1973.

Walmiki attacked her in the hospital's basement, throttled her with a dog chain and pulled it back and tried to rape her, but since she was menstruating, he sodomised her.

To immobilise the struggling young nurse, who was engaged and due to get married shortly, he twisted the chain around her neck, cutting off oxygen supply to her brain. She was found in a pool of blood the next morning.

She never woke up since that night as she had lapsed into PVS and breathed her last after 42 years, while her attacker Walmiki was caught and tried for assault and robbery, but not for rape/sexual assault and was released after serving a seven-year jail term.

During her comatose lifetime, nurses at the KEM Hospital undertook turns to look after and care for the frail Shanbaug till her death at the age of 67.

In January 2011, Virani moved the apex court seeking euthanasia for Shanbaug, but it set up an expert panel to examine the victim and in March that year, rejected the plea for her "mercy killing".


June 1, 1948: Aruna R. Shanbaug born in a Goud Saraswat Brahmin family in Haldipur, Karnataka.

1970: Moved to Mumbai and started working as a nurse at KEM Hospital.

1972: Engaged with a doctor in the same hospital and planned to get married by 1973-end.

1973, November 27: That night, as she prepared to go home, Aruna was sexually assaulted by sweeper Sohanlal B. Walmiki in the hospital basement, throttled by a dog chain which snapped oxygen supply to her brain, resulting in brain stem contusion, cervical cord injury and cortical blindness.

November 28: Mumbai police nab Walmiki.

November 29: Medicos said Aruna was left blind, deaf, paralysed and in a permanent vegetative state.

1974: Walmiki booked for robbery and attempted murder, not rape/sodomy and later sentenced to seven years in jail.

1980: Walmiki completes sentence, walks out of jail and resumes normal life.

1980: KEM plans to evict Aruna, nurses protest.

1998: Pinki Virani's book on Aruna's sad story released in English and Marathi.

2009: Virani moves Supreme Court urging it to stop force-feeding her and seeks mercy-killing for Aruna.

January 24, 2011: The apex court responded to the plea for euthanasia by setting up an expert medical panel to examine Aruna.

March 7: Supreme Court rejects the mercy killing petition, however, allows "passive euthanasia".

May 18, 2015: After remaining comatose for 42 years, Aruna dies at KEM Hospital.

March 9, 2018: Supreme Court's historic verdict on passive euthanasia with stringent conditions.


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