In 1973 India, a young nurse was brutally attacked, raped and left for dead at the hospital in which she worked. This monstrous attack left her in a vegetative state after being strangled by chains which cut off the oxygen supply to her brain. Her struggle began on that day and lasted 42 years. Aruna Shanbaug was 25 years old and engaged to be married, she was a bright nurse who cared for patients as if they were her own family.
This crime was not registered as a rape by the doctors at the hospital for fear of it bringing shame to Aruna, it was a case of robbery and attempted murder as far as the courts were concerned. The monster (for no other word comes to mind) who committed this heinous attack was sentenced to seven years in prison, meanwhile, Aruna was sentenced to a lifetime of suffering. She remained in the hospital in which she used to work, cared for by the nurses who were once her colleagues. Every seven years or so the hospital would suggest freeing her bed only to back down after these nurses held a protest on Aruna’s behalf. The juxtaposition of this story reflects human nature at its best, the monsters that dwell among us and the angels who are there to ease our suffering, humanity is an ironic thing.
Aruna Shanbaug died last week. Forty-two years her fragile body lay on that bed, eyes open through the pain, silent, ageing. Those years should not be dismissed, Aruna survived to remind us that rape is not a crime like any other, rape is murder. The violation of one’s dignity and the vile inhumanity of the act leaves its victims alive yet dead inside and Aruna was the physical embodiment of that feeling. For 42 years she remained in order for us to witness that the scars these ‘crimes’ leave behind never fully heal. They never go away.
Societies have a peculiar way of relating, or more accurately non-relating, to rape maybe because it is so vicious, they choose to live in denial about it. With no other crime do people associate shame to the victim except with rape, why is that? Forty-two years on people are still debating this question. Society’s view of rape must be altered in order for laws to be enforced and severe punishment implemented. To this day, all over the world the victim of rape is not seen as just a victim. Questions linger around how the rape victim brought it upon herself, dissection of her background and attire takes place as if to look for any evidence that will assign a shared responsibility for the crime. There is nothing being shared, there is only something being taken, forcibly and without mercy. There is no rhyme or reason for such monstrosity, such darkness. It is all around us and it must be eradicated not excused.
There is no point of relaying statistics on rape because for every figure given there are thousands missing, unreported. It is a shameful state we have created where a victim chooses to endure the pain and suffering, silenced by fear that judgment will come before justice.
For every Aruna story we hear there are hundreds of thousands that will never be heard, swept under the great rug of shame societies have so eloquently woven. It is up to us to speak up, to lift this heavy rug and reveal the ugliness it conceals. It is up to us to teach our children not to be afraid and to defend instead of condemn. Governments must be forced to take great measures in ensuring that this pandemic is wiped out through stricter laws, education and awareness campaigns.
Viciousness is part of the world we live in, some of us choose to ignore it with the rationalisation of wanting only positivity to flow our way. How selfish we have become! That the pain of others has become a hindrance to the fulfilment of our positive selves. Turning one’s head away from the world’s darkness does not make it disappear, facing it head-on does.
This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on May 24, 2015 http://bit.ly/1ArFr4T
Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej Newspaper http://bit.ly/1enB2WQ