Mumbai, March 7: Pramila Kushe got her son to drop her outside Ward No. 4 of KEM Hospital on Monday, two decades after she retired as a nurse.
The 80-year-old Pramila made the trip to join serving and other retired nurses who were celebrating after the Supreme Court rejected the euthanasia plea for Aruna Shanbaug.
I was the first one to find Aruna in the empty operation theatre in this hospitals basement after she had been raped and brutally assaulted by that animal Sohan Lal (Valmiki). She was sitting, leaning against a stool with a dog-chain around her neck. There was blood around her. I ran out and brought the matron. As soon as she saw matron Bellimal, her eyes welled up and tears streamed down her face. She tried to say something but could not… only her lips moved. And then, slowly she lost consciousness, remembers Kushe, her own eyes brimming.
She hangs around with some other retired nurses outside the ward as they discuss Arunas one-time fiancé Sundeep Sardesai. The two were to marry.
Sundeep was a resident doctor in the hospital at the time of the attack on Aruna by wardboy Sohan Lal Valmiki. Sundeep had waited patiently for Aruna to revive for four years — visiting her every day and talking to her for hours and crying by her bedside.
He had eventually moved on — married and settled down abroad.
On Sunday night — hours before the Supreme Court verdict — Sundeep had called KEM matron M.P. Khaladkar. He called again on Monday after the verdict. He spoke very little, asked how she was. He seemed very relieved with the judgment, said Khaladkar, unwilling to give out more details.
She walks away, nodding at staff nurses as they distribute sweets and raise slogans against writer Pinki Virani who filed the petition seeking Arunas mercy killing.
Pinki Virani murdabad.. Pinki Virani ke liye iccha maut (mercy killing)… Aruna Shanbaug zindabad.
Aruna is a mascot for many of these nurses and the verdict brings them a sense of closure, though the court has given the hospital the option to approach Bombay High Court with a petition for passive euthanasia.
Arunas rape and assault had sparked Independent Indias first nurse strike — demanding justice and treatment for her and better protection and working conditions for the nurses. It led to Sohan Lals arrest and conviction but unfortunately, he was never tried for rape. Today, the wheel of justice seems to have come full circle with the SC rejecting another attack on her life, says an emotional Deepa Mehta, former matron of KEM and caregiver to Aruna for two decades.
Sohan Lal was convicted of attempted murder but not rape and sexual assault as a hospital official deleted parts of her medical report that proved Aruna had been sodomised.
This was done to ensure that she did not face any ostracism after her recovery and marital life with Sundeep. But Aruna never recovered and Sohan Lal got away with seven years. Recently, I heard he had contracted a life- threatening disease and is dying or is dead, said Deepa.
After his release, Sohan Lal went on to work in a private hospital in Delhi for many years. But he returned to attack the comatose Aruna again after he was released from jail after seven years. He had sneaked into her room and had brought down the rails of her bed in an attempt to push her down from the bed.
Arunas room is just outside Ward No. 4 and has been kept under lock and key since then with only doctors and caregivers allowed entry.
On Monday, young nursing students went about their daily chores while maintaining a tight vigil outside the locked door. Strains of devotional music wafted out. A brown curtain adjacent to the door remains determinedly drawn to prevent voyeurs from robbing Aruna of her dignity.
She is sleeping now. The music plays on 24 hours — she likes it, says Kalpana Gajula, a former staff nurse who is now a tutor.
Nursing students, under the watchful eyes of senior nurses, take care of her. She is currently being fed by RC tubes. We feed and clean her every four hours. Pinki Virani calls this force-feeding. Tell me if a patient cant be fed through mouth for some reason and has to be fed through nose, is it force-feeding? Aruna does respond to some of us who have known her for long hours. If she wets herself, she shouts till cleaned. She is not a vegetable as Pinki claims, Gajula says.
The panel of doctors who examined Aruna on the courts orders, however, has diagnosed her as being in a medically vegetative state.
The claims about her recognition powers are mere wishful thinking of her caregivers who share an emotional bond with her. But I must point out that when we went to inspect her, the doctors of KEM hospital put cubes of sugar in her mouth and Aruna munched on them fondly, said Dr Nilesh Shah, who was on the panel.
She was not in a state to munch sugar cubes on Monday — but the nurses say they will offer her sugar-infused water in one of her feeds to celebrate the Supreme Court verdict.