Author Pinki Virani, who petitioned the courts for the mercy killing of Aruna Shanbaug, said on Monday she would always remember the rape survivor as someone who gifted the country a law on passive euthanasia despite being denied the right to life as well as death.
Shanbaug had died a thousand deaths since she was sexually assaulted by a sweeper of King Edward Memorial Hospital when she was a beautiful 25-year-old woman betrothed to a doctor, Virani told Hindustan Times.
“What happened today was Aruna’s legal death. She was but a bundle of skin and bones. Her actual death took place on the evening of November 27, 1973,” said the author of “Aruna’s Story: The True Account of a Rape and its Aftermath”, a 1998 book that tells the heartbreaking story.
Virani was in Pune when the 67-year-old former nurse died in KEM Hospital on Monday morning.
“I wouldn’t pretend I am sad or even overjoyed. The only emotion I feel right now is one of huge relief. A long nightmare, for both of us, has ended,” she said on phone.
Acting on Virani’s petition, the Supreme Court legalised passive euthanasia in 2011 but laid down strict guidelines to prevent abuse. Passive euthanasia is a procedure in which medical treatment is withdrawn and death is allowed to occur.
Video: Aruna Shanbaug dies 42 years after brutal rape that put her in coma
"She never healed after the incident. She had been rendered blind. She was prone to diarrohea. She menstruated regularly. Her nails continued to grow, and even grew into her skin," she said.
"Whenever she sensed men around her, which happened quite often, she would howl like a wounded dog. Sometimes, she laughed maniacally. It was hardly a life, but she was even denied her rights as a patient. No treatment or physiotherapy was given to her."
Virani referred to Shanbaug as "my Aruna" and "my baby" and said she was never denied passive euthanasia by the apex court, contrary to media reports.
"The court had said that if her primary caregiver (KEM Hospital) approached them with the plea, they could allow it," she said.
Nurses and other staff of KEM hospital during Aruna Shanbaug's funeral procession in Mumbai on Monday. (PTI Photo)
In 2011, the Supreme Court rejected Virani’s petition seeking mercy killing for Shanbaug, and the judges said the primary caregiver could choose whether to pursue euthanasia, which KEM Hospital didn’t. Virani’s petition was opposed by the management and nurses of the hospital.
"It would have been a matter of 15 to 20 days. She wasn’t being given any treatment anyway. Just her feed had to be stopped," Virani said.
Recalling her three-decade association with Shanbaug, Virani said: "My mother (Roshanara Modi), who was a teacher, cited Shanbaug’s case while advising me to be careful against late evening shifts at work.
"That’s how I was introduced to Aruna, and saw her at the hospital soon after. She must have been around 34 or 35 years then."
Virani said sections of the media romanticised Shanbaug’s tragedy every year on her birthday (June 1) but she suffered panic attacks every November 27. "But now my baby is asleep. My little broken bird has finally slipped off," she said.