Aruna Shanbaug Dies 42 Years After Being Raped and Left in a Vegetative State

By Emma Husband, Staff Writer

42 years after being brutally raped and assaulted, Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse from India, has died as a result.

In 1973, Shanbaug was sodomised and strangled with a dog chain by a cleaner at Mumbai's KEM hospital where she worked. Although left for dead, she survived but in a permanent vegetative state because of lack of oxygen to her brain during the attack,

Just 25 when the rape and assault took place, she was subsequently fed through her nose twice a day for over four decades. 6 days ago she died after contracting pneumonia.

Under Indian law at the time, sodomy was not considered rape and so the man who attacked her, Sohanlal Bharta Walmiki, was never even prosecuted for the crime. He is believed to have changed his name and now works as a cleaner in a hospital in Delhi, after serving just 7 years for attempted murder and theft.

Her death has reopened the issue of violence against women in India, as well as the debate around euthanasia laws. Author Pinky Viranai, who has written a book about Shanbaug, pleaded in 2011 for her to be allowed to die, arguing that she was already virtually dead. However, this was refused by the Supreme Court.

As Shanbaug's parents were dead and close relatives disinterested in her after the attack, and also given that the hospital staff looking after her believed that she should continue to be kept alive, it was ruled that she should not be taken off life support.

There has been a plethora of responses to Shanbaug's death, and indeed her 'life' post-attack. Whether this generates further debate with regards to legislation surrounding euthanasia is left to be seen, but Aruna Shanbaug's life and consequent vegetative state will remain a call for open discussion on dignity in living and dying.