Aruna Shanbaug case

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Aruna Shanbaug (alternatively spelled Shanbhag) is a former nurse from Haldipur, Uttar Kannada, Karnataka in India. In 1973, while working as a junior nurse at King Edward Memorial Hospital, Parel, Mumbai, she was sexually assaulted by a ward boy, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki and has been in a vegetative state since the assault. On 24 January 2011, after she had been in this status for 37 years, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for euthanasia filed by Aruna's friend journalist Pinki Virani, by setting up a medical panel to examine her. The court turned down the mercy killing petition on 7 March 2011. However in its landmark judgment, it allowed passive euthanasia in India.[1]

Attack and trial[edit]

Aruna was planning to get married to a medic in the hospital.[2]

On the night of 27 November 1973, Shanbaug was sexually assaulted by Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, a sweeper on contract at the King Edward Memorial Hospital.[3] 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.[4]

The police case was registered as a case of robbery and attempted murder on account of the concealment of anal rape by the doctors under the instructions of the Dean of KEM, Dr. Deshpande, perhaps to avoid the social rejection of the victim,[5] and her impending marriage.[2]

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).

Nurses' strike[edit]

Following the attack, nurses in Mumbai went on strike demanding improved conditions for Shanbaug and better working conditions for themselves.[6] In the 1980s the BMC made two attempts to move Shanbaug outside the KEM Hospital to free the bed she has been occupying for seven years. KEM nurses launched a protest, and the BMC abandoned the plan.[7]

Supreme Court case[edit]

Since the assault in 1973, she has been in a vegetative state.

On December 17, 2010, Supreme Court while admitting the plea to end the life made by activist-journalist Pinki Virani, sought a report on Shanbaug's medical condition from the hospital in Mumbai and the government of Maharashtra.[8][9] On 24 January 2011, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for euthanasia filed by Aruna's friend journalist Pinki Virani, by setting up a medical panel to examine her.[10] The three-member medical committee subsequently set up under the Supreme Court's directive, checked upon Aruna and concluded that she met "most of the criteria of being in a permanent vegetative state".[11]

However, it turned down the mercy killing petition on 7 March 2011. The court, in its landmark judgement, however allowed passive euthanasia in India.

While rejecting Pinki Virani's plea for Aruna Shanbaug's euthanasia, the court laid out guidelines for passive euthanasia. According to these guidelines, passive euthanasia involves the withdrawing of treatment or food that would allow the patient to live.[12][13]


Following the Supreme Court judgment rejecting the plea, her colleagues, the nursing staff at the hospital, who had opposed the petition, and who had been looking after her since she had lapsed into coma, distributed sweets and cut a cake to celebrate what they termed her "rebirth". A senior nurse at the hospital later said, "We have to tend to her just like a small child at home. She only keeps aging like any of us, does not create any problems for us. We take turns looking after her and we love to care for her. How can anybody think of taking her life?"[2]

Pinki Virani’s lawyer, Shubhangi Tulli ruled out filing an appeal stating "the two-judge ruling was final till the SC decided to constitute a larger bench to re-examine the issue". Pinki Virani herself stated, "Because of this woman who has never received justice, no other person in a similar position will have to suffer for more than three and a half-decades."[14]

In popular culture[edit]

A non-fiction book titled Aruna's Story has been written by Pinki Virani about the case in 1998, while Duttakumar Desai wrote the Marathi play, Katha Arunachi in 1994–95 and was performed at the college level, subsequently it was staged under director Vinay Apte in 2002.[15][16]

Anumol will play Aruna in a Malayalam film 'Maram Peyyumbol'[17] [18]

An Indian poet, Kumar Gautam, in his poetry blog has tried to express the thoughts of Aruna Shanbaug in her words in his poem 'An open letter from Aruna Shanbaug' [19]

Further reading[edit]

  • Aruna's Story: the true account of a rape and its aftermath, by Pinki Virani. Viking, 1998
  • Arunachi Goshta (Aruna's story) (Marathi), by Pinki Virani, 1998, Translator : Meena Karnikar. Mehta Publishing House. 1998 ISBN 81-8498-142-2


  1. ^ "India joins select nations in legalising "passive euthanasia"". The Hindu. 7 March 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c "Rebirth for Aruna, say joyous Mumbai hospital staff". Deccan Herald. March 7, 2011. 
  3. ^ Virani, Pinki (2003-09-10). "Aruna is still on our conscience". The Times of India. 
  4. ^ Kurup, Saira (2006-05-07). "Four women India forgot". The Times of India. Retrieved 2009-10-25. 
  5. ^ Nambiar, Harish (2000-11-20). "Yet Another South Asian Story". chowk. Chowk (blog). Retrieved 2009-10-25. 
  6. ^ Surya, Vasantha (June 20, 1998). "A cautionary tale". Frontline Magazine (The Hindu) 15 (13). Archived from the original on 25 November 2009. Retrieved 2015-01-22. 
  7. ^ "Aruna Shanbaug: Timeline". Times of India. 2011-03-08. 
  8. ^ "India court admits plea to end life of rape victim". BBC News, Delhi. 17 December 2009. 
  9. ^ "Judges consider comatose rape victim’s right to die". The Times. December 18, 2009. 
  10. ^ "Team to look into Euthanasia plea". Times Of India. 2011-01-25. 
  11. ^ "'Aruna Shanbaug's brain shrivelled after 1973 sexual assault'". The Times of India. Feb 28, 2011. 
  12. ^ "India court rejects Aruna Shanbaug euthanasia plea". BBC. 7 March 2011. Archived from the original on 7 March 2011. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  13. ^ "India's Supreme Court lays out euthanasia guidelines". LA Times. 8 March 2011. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  14. ^ "‘Because of Aruna, no one else will have to suffer’". Hindustan Times. March 7, 2011. 
  15. ^ Shahane, Devayani (2002-05-23). "Rape and Reality". Pune Times (The Times of India). Retrieved 2015-01-22. 
  16. ^ "Aruna’s story is now a play at Sahitya Sangh". Indian Express. April 3, 2002. 
  17. ^ "Now, a film on rape victim Aruna Shanbaug’s life". The Times of India. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  18. ^ deepu says:. "Gauthami Nair as Aruna Shanbaug in maram peyyumpol". Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  19. ^ "An open letter from Aruna Shanbaug". Retrieved 2011-03-12. 

External links[edit]