Overwhelmed by the Supreme Court verdict allowing Aruna Shanbaug, 62, to live, staff and nurses caring for her at the King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital at Parel here took to the streets and burst into an impromptu celebration on Monday. Sweets were distributed, and nurses crowded around the media expressing their joy that journalist Pinki Virani's plea for euthanasia for Aruna was rejected by the court.
“Aruna Shanbaug zindabaad, Pinki Virani murdabad,” they shouted. “We are actually not allowed to speak to the media. But we are so happy with the verdict,” a nurse said.
Sister Kaur said: “We don't want Aruna to die. We are her family. We want her to live. We will keep taking care of her just the way we have been doing for years. Who is Pinki Virani [to plead for euthanasia for Aruna]?” Dean Sanjay Oak said: “We are very thankful to the honourable Supreme Court for allowing us to continue taking care of her.”
Sister Gajula said: “This is the best Women's Day gift the Supreme Court has given to us. We will celebrate this year with a lot more enthusiasm and happiness. Aruna is like a sister to me. She will live.”
Just an hour before the verdict on the euthanasia plea for sodomy victim Aruna, who has been comatose and confined to bed for more than 37 years, there were hushed whispers in the hospital corridors. “We are not allowed to speak to the media about this. Please talk to our dean,” a nurse told The Hindu. After news of the verdict came, protocol was forgotten as the nurses celebrated.
Sister Sawant said: “We are thankful to the court, the BMC [Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation] and most of all, our Dean, who supported us throughout. The entire KEM institute, from the servant team to the doctors, has stood by Aruna. And this judgment is our victory.”
“Oh, she loves cake,” Sister Gajula said. “We are going to her with a big bouquet of flowers and a cake.”
“She also loves non-vegetarian food. She especially loves fish and Bombay duck curry mixed with a lot of rice. She makes a different sound when we feed these dishes to her. She enjoys that food,” another nurse said.
Claiming that Aruna responds to certain things, nurses said she was not in a vegetative state. “She is comatose, but she is sensitive to touch, food. She makes movements. How can a person who understands touch, the sentiments behind the touch, be vegetative,” asked sister-in-charge Vibhawari Winge.
“Her sensitivity is alive. She is a human, not a vegetable. She refuses food when she is full, opens her mouth when food is brought close to her mouth. She screams when she is wet. Till a few years ago, she used to bite the finger of the serving nurse if she didn't like the food,” a nurse said.
All the nurses in the hospital have been on duty on rotation in Ward 4, where Aruna is kept. The staff members take pride that despite Aruna being bedridden for more than 37 years, has developed no bedsore.
“Even the Supreme Court appreciated the way we care for her. We follow the nursing principles and clean her up every few hours. If you see, her skin is still so soft, just like a baby,” Sister Sunita said.
Anger against Virani
Sister Winge asked: “Who is she [Pinki Virani] to plead for Aruna? Has she taken care of her even for a day? Has she changed her bed, fed her? We do it every day. Ask her to take care of her for at least a day and then claim to be her friend. Would she have pleaded death for her own relative if she were to suffer?”
“She doesn't have any moral right to talk on behalf of Aruna. We had been so restless since the day she filed this plea. We are emotionally very attached to Aruna. If anyone has the right to speak on her behalf, it is the staff of KEM Hospital who has cared for her and loved her for years,” she said.
“The judiciary has honoured us by passing this judgment. We leave our homes behind us and serve Aruna selflessly. Not just the nursing staff, but even the servant staff feel attached to Aruna. For some, she is a sister, for some a daughter, for some a mother. We serve her with our heart — not because it is our duty, but because we love her a lot. Just like we will never ask for death for our near and dear ones, we don't want her to die,” Sister Winge said.
A nurse remembered the way the hospital celebrated Aruna's 50th birthday. “She loves music. We had called a bhajan mandali [a group of singers of devotional songs] then. The groups sang for some time. Aruna seemed to have enjoyed it. We are so thankful to our then dean Dr. Pradnya Pai for arranging the programme and allowing us to celebrate,” Sister Sawant said.