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Friday, March 11, 2011

Aruna's sister Shata Nayak refuses to visit her as she can't bear to see her pain- Mumbai Mirror

I don’t visit Aruna. I can’t see her in pain

Shanta Nayak, nurse Aruna Shanbaug's 75-yr-old sister, on euthanasia and why the family has left her to KEM's care

Lata Mishra

Posted On Friday, March 11, 2011 at 02:40:02 AM

Shanta Vasudev Nayak, the 75-year-old sister of Aruna Shanbaug, the KEM nurse lying in a vegetative state for over 30 years and who is now at the centre of a raging euthanasia debate, does not want her ‘little Aruna’ to be put to sleep.

While Nayak, a widow who lives in a tiny one-room house in Parel with her divorcee daughter, decided to stay away from the court drama around her sister’s life despite receiving letters from KEM hospital to depose in the case, she chokes when she says Aruna should be allowed to live her full life.

This is the first time anybody from Aruna’s family has spoken in public on the euthanasia plea and Nayak’s opinion is consistent with the court’s decision to let Aruna continue in the care of KEM staff.

“Initially we felt that she should be put to sleep. She did not recognise anybody and had no control over her body and mind. But now we feel otherwise. She has the right to live,” she said.

Nayak admitted that she received at least three letters from KEM asking her to appear in the court, but decided to not get involved because at her age it all seemed too much to bother. There was also the fear that any contact with the hospital could renew their demand that she take her home.

Shanta Nayak at her Lower Parel house on Thursday
A typo in spelling her name -- it was spelt as Shanta Vasant Hayal -- was used by her to not accept the letters. “I knew the letters were meant for me. I knew they would be something to do with Aruna. But on all three occasions, I told the postman that nobody by this name stayed here. We are barely surviving on what my daughter Mangala, a shop attendant, earns. We have no time or energy to get into anything else,” she said.

Nayak and Mangala, however, kept track of the trial through newspapers and television. There was a small celebration in their Nehru Nagar Chawl near Peninsula Corporate Park when the court ruled in favour of keeping Aruna live.

Nayak claimed that for 15 years after the November 27, 1973, sexual assault on Aruna by a ward boy that left her bed-ridden for life, she visited her in hospital regularly and so did Aruna's eldest brother, Balkrishna Shanbaug, a farmer in Haldipur in Karnataka.

The hospital, however, denied that Nayak or any other member of the family visited Aruna. KEM dean Dr Sanjay Oak also denied that Aruna's family was ever asked to pay for her hospital stay.

The Shanbaug family in Haldipur in Karnataka had six brothers and three sisters. Aruna was the youngest. Nayak was 15 when she got married and came to Mumbai. Aruna followed her after completing her nursing course and got a job at KEM. “While Aruna stayed in the hostel, she would often come to meet us,” Shanta recalled.

Call it fate's cruel joke, just months before the brutal attack by the ward boy, with whom she had a minor tiff, Aruna fell in love with Dr Sandeep Sardesai, a neuro-surgeon whom she would help in the operation theatre.

After the two families agreed to the match, Aruna moved in with her sister to save up for the wedding. It was November 1, 1973. “She was a happy go lucky girl. She was also the prettiest in the family. We liked having her around.” Nayak said.

On November 27, 1973, the day she was raped and left to die in the basement, Nayak remembers Aruna leaving from home early. “She was called in to work because there were cases of food poisoning in the city. She left in a hurry. Before leaving, she told me that she had left some clothes in a bucket for washing and that she would return and finish washing them.”

Aruna, however, did not return at her appointed hour. “We did get worried, but assumed she must have got caught in some emergency cases. It was only the next day that one of her colleagues came home and told us that Aruna was unwell. We went to the hospital and found that she was badly hurt and unconscious,” she said.

Aruna Shanbaug (left) and her sister Shanta Vasudev Nayak
It was much later in the day that Nayak and others of family were told what Aruna had been through and that she may never walk or talk again.

Nayak said Dr Sardesai visited Aruna every day and took care of her. “Dr Sardesai did not marry for 10 years after the incident. And when he did, it was under tremendous pressure from the family.”

Over the years, Nayak said, she did not see any change in Aruna's condition. “She would lie in foetal position all the time. She did not recognise us,” she said.

A few years later, Aruna was shifted from a private room at KEM to Sarvoday Hospital in Ghatkopar. That's when Nayak's visits to the hospital became less frequent. “Later, when nurses at KEM protested, Aruna was brought back.

At this juncture, hospital authorities started pressurising us to take her home. I was simply in no position to take care of Aruna,” said Nayak.

Around this time, Nayak's husband fell ill and was bed-ridden for four years. Her daughters and son got married. “With hospital putting pressure on me to take Aruna home and my husband bed-ridden, I thought it was best if I stopped going to meet Aruna,” she said.

Even now she has no intention of ever going back to the hospital to meet her sister. “Even my brother, who is the head of the family, has stopped going. What is the point in going there? But I sure want her to live for as long as she can.

More than anything else, I cannot stand the sight of her being in pain,” Nayak said, wiping tears with her saree's pallu.

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