Monday, December 21, 2009

Ms Aruna Shanbaug, the right to die, and rape culture

This Goat has days when she feels completely overwhelmed by how horrifying this world can be. These are rare days, but today's been one of them. Major TRIGGER WARNING:-

...Now the country’s highest court has said that it will consider whether to allow Ms Shanbaug, 61, to die — a landmark decision that could recast laws on euthanasia in India, where mercy killings are illegal. According to Pinki Virani, a journalist who filed a petition pleading for Ms Shanbaug, who was 25 at the time of the brutal attack, to be allowed to die, her current state makes her “virtually a dead person.

During the assault Ms Shanbaug’s assailant, a hospital cleaner, wrapped a dog chain around her neck. It cut off the bloodflow to her brain and damaged her brain stem, leaving her paralysed. She is now force-fed by nurses twice a day at the King Edward Memorial Hospital and cannot speak, see or hear.

Her attacker, Sohanlal Bartha Walmiki, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 1974 for attempted murder and robbery.

[Times Online]

In case it wasn't clear: her rapist is now alive and walks free, while Ms Shanbaug has spent 36 years in a hospital bed, blind, mute, deaf and paralysed.

As for the question of the right to die: the Supreme Court has sought a report on Ms Shanbaug's medical condition from the hospital in Mumbai and the government of Maharashtra. It is a positive step that the action hasn't been thrown out at the start, and that the Supreme Court wants to consider Ms Shanbaug's condition before arriving at a decision, given its apparent pro-life stance in previous cases.

It is at times like these that my faith - that everyone eventually pays for what they have done - fails me: no, I don't want him punished in his next life. He should have been punished with the full force of the law 36 years ago, when he remembered full well the unmitigated brutality towards Ms Shanbaug, and again, and again.

Of course, the fact remains: such cruel and casual brutality against women shouldn't happen at all. Yet it does and it will continue to do so in great numbers, because when everyone - criminals, society, the justice system, the police - is complicit, there isn't any reason to stop. I am not excoriating just the Indian justice system in particular here - but every country which has institutionalised rape culture to this point. Shame on us all.


Judge considers comatose rape victim's right to die [TimesOnline]

India court admits plea to end life of rape victim [BBC News]

Against mercy death, KEM remembers Aruna as she was [The Indian Express]

Aruna right-to-die case to be heard in the SC [Legally India]


  1. Just to be clear, she was anally raped by the assailant; his total sentence was 7 years, before he was released and is now working at another hospital.

    - BDP

  2. *speechless with sadness*

    The descriptions of her physical state from 1997 are really upsetting.

    Thank you for highlighting this, Goat.

  3. @BDP: Thanks - for some reason I missed the part about him working in another hospital. That's just sickening. - Oh My Goat


Please avoid (1) victim-blaming, (2) justifying any particular instance of oppression/exploitation, (3) explaining that we live in a post-feminist/racist/ablist/enter-oppression-here world, or (4) Mansplaining at all. Barn writers are free to moderate their own posts how ever they deem fit, and not obligated to entertain any comment. If you suspect it might seem offensive, don't comment.

(See our note on comments.)