One of the saddest tales of India, which lasted 42 years, ended on Monday. The nurse Aruna Shanbaug, a symbol of how the country treats its women, was raped and left for dead with a dog chain around her neck choking the blood supply to her brain, put there by a ward boy she had censured for stealing food meant for dogs. Her life on a hospital bed for four decades is as much a condemnation of men as it is a stirring tribute to her colleague nurses who refused to countenance her death by euthanasia and took great care of her for so long and so lovingly. If this heart-rending story does not touch the nation’s conscience, nothing will.
Aruna’s tragic story also led to India becoming one of the first countries in the world to legalise passive euthanasia although the mercy petition moved on her behalf was rejected. There is no official count of how many terminally ill patients or their kin would have taken this route. Again, it is a comment on our society that it took an extreme case to lead to a humane decision. Her tormentor spent two successive seven-year terms in prison and society probably forgot about the beast after he was set free. A crime like this would have invited a far more stringent penalty in today’s India, which is grappling with the major problem of sexual assault and rape.
That might just go to show that as a society we have not progressed in the four decades since Aruna became a symbol of all that is wrong with our male-dominated society.