The spirit that Aruna Shanbaug was known for as a young nurse seems to be alive still, even as she leads the life of an invalid in a civic hospital ward in Mumbai.
“She eats well; she is fine,” says a lady staff, who feeds her. “She has milk and bread in the morning, or an egg. It's rice in the afternoon and rice for lunch. When she is hungry, she communicates her demand for food.
“How do you expect us to stop feeding her? She is a human being after all. Do you want us to kill her soul?” asks the cleaning staff at the hospital.
A mercy killing petition recently filed by Ms. Shanbaug thorough a friend Pinki Virani in the Supreme Court, however, appeals that the “force feeding” be stopped. The reason: her right to live with dignity. Sixty-one-year-old Shanbaug cannot move. She is bed-ridden. A brutal assault 36 years ago left her paralysed for life.
At 25, Ms. Shanbaug was cruelly assaulted by Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, a sweeper in the hospital where she was working as staff nurse.
He tried to strangle her with a dog chain. This cut off oxygen supply to her brain, causing her to lose physical and mental faculties. Walmiki was convicted of robbery and attempt to murder. He escaped the rape charge.
Ever since the incident in 1973, a hospital room has been Ms. Shanbaug's oyster. She was set to get married at the time.
Shunned by her immediate family and forgotten by the world, she came under the care of the hospital staff who have looked after her all these years.
“Why does anyone ask about her now? For 36 years no one came for her,” says the cleaner. “I have been working here for 22 years and I have never seen anyone visiting her. Her family abandoned her. As a municipal employee, we care for her. Otherwise she has just been left in the lurch.” She says Ms. Shanbaug's fingers have curved over time.
Her room is locked and male staff is reportedly not allowed inside.
Ms. Shanbaug is said to have been a promising professional with a zest for life. At one stroke, this confident life was snuffed out.
As a staff nurse says: “We have hidden her underneath the ground.”