Culture and People

#RIP Aruna Shanbaug… Brave Woman – Twisted Fate


Aruna Shanbaug: Before the attack

Aruna Shanbaug: Before the attack


Aruna Shanbaug: Rest of her life...

Aruna Shanbaug: Rest of her life…



Aruna Shanbaug officially passed away today morning… she died from pneumonia on 18 May 2015, after being in a coma for 42 years.

Though it is more of a formal announcement and a rather good thing for her, finally she can rest in peace after being kept alive technically for 42 years by the doctors in KEM Bombay.  It was the nurses at KEM hospital who really took care of her as her own family gave up on her soon after the tragic incident of 27th November 1973.

Her life is a twisted tale of fate that truly shakes one’s faith in everything that human race stands for. Goodness of humanity and presence of God or any kind of supernatural power overseeing this world deserve to be question. I hope Aruna is asking this question today and get answer from the Gods themselves.

Aruna’s parents had already passed away when she moved to Bombay from her village in Karnataka. Her biological family (bothers & sisters) were scared of the responsibility to take care of her, want to have as little as possible to do with her and when the hospital suggested that it is time to take her home, they refuse to do so and just gave up on her. The love of her life whom she was planning to marry before the incidence, Dr. Sundeep Sardesai, waited for her for 4 years and then moved on with his own life, got married, had kids, moved to USA for a better career. The only one to care about Aruna were her colleagues at the Hospital, conveying their sense of commitment, they took care of her till her last breath.

Nobody knows if the person responsible for her miserable life, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, a hospital cleaning staff member,  is dead or alive. He served jail term for 7 year, tried to kill her once again in the hospital when he walked out of the prison, and then changed his name, changed city and became invisible. Some say he moved to New Delhi and worked in some private hospital, some believe he tied few years ago in a Delhi hospital of AIDS. No one knows for sure what he did and how he managed to live a life after  committing such a heinous crime.

Aruna dreamed of a good life for herself, she never knew what the fate has in store for her. She was born in a small village Haldipur in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. She studied up to Class X at the Rural Education Society School in this village, and after the death of her parents, left for Mumbai to live with elder brother. She completed a nursing course and joined the KEM Hospital at Parel in Mumbai. The lively, pretty and dedicated Aruna soon became very popular amongst the hospital staff. 25 year old, Aruna fell in love with her doctor colleague in the same hospital and they were planning to get married. She had planned a party on November 30 (2 days after the attack) for her office colleagues.

Aruna and Sohan Lal both worked in the Dog Lab – a laboratory in the basement of the hospital where unclaimed street dogs were kept for experimental purposes. Sohan Lal was in charge of keeping the area clean and for getting dogs from their cages to the operating theatre. Aruna used to hate Sohan Lal as she had found him mistreating the animals and stealing the food and medicines meant for the dogs. She had warned him several times and had even reported the matter to her superiors. Sohan Lal was obviously very piqued with Aruna for this. On 27th November, 1973 Aruna told him that she was going to send a written complaint to the Dean about him. This proved to be the the tipping point for Sohan Lal. On the same day, at around 4.50 pm, Aruna came down to the basement to change out of her hospital uniform. When Aruna was changing in the basement, Sohan Lal was lurking in the shadows waiting for the right opportunity to take his revenge. He attacked Aruna in the basement. She fought hard, biting him, scratching him, kicking him, but he managed to throw her on the ground. He first tried to rape her but finding that she was menstruating, he sodomized her. To immobilize her during this act he twisted a Dog chain around her neck. The strangulation cut off oxygen supply to her brain resulting in brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury apart from leaving her cortically blind. The next day on 28th November, 1973 at 7.45 a.m., Pramila Kushe, a cleaner in the KEM Hospital, found her lying on the floor with blood all over in an unconscious condition. She was sitting, leaning against a stool with a dog-chain around her neck. As soon as Aruna saw the hospital staff, 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.

Sohan Lal was subsequently arrested from Pune and a police case was registered against him for robbery and attempted murder but not for rape or sexual molestation or unnatural sexual offence as hospital officials had deleted parts of her medical report that proved Aruna been sodomized. This was done to ensure that she did not face any ostracism after her recovery. Sohan Lal was convicted for 7 years in jail in 1974.

Till the time she was alive, the KEM hospital staff followed an an annual ritual of taking each and every batch of nursing students to Aruna’s room and introducing her to them as ‘She was one of Us’.  For 42 years the entire nursing staff members of the hospital kept a very compassionate attitude towards Aruna – showing their happily and willingly take care of her.


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