Check your backyard…

From the Archives: On Aruna Shanbaug’s death anniversary

May 18th, 2015:

I was just fiddling with my phone earlier today, when the news flashed on its screen “Aruna Shanbaug dies after being in coma for 42 years”.
My hands froze and my mind went numb. It has been hours since then, and that feeling has still not completely passed.

A little background, for those who are not aware of the case.

~~Aruna Shanbaug was a former nurse at the King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. She was sexually assaulted by a ward boy, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki and had been in a vegetative state since the assault………………Sohanlal attacked her while she was changing clothes in the hospital basement. He choked her with a dog chain and sodomized her. The asphyxiation cut off oxygen supply to her brain, resulting in brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury apart from leaving her cortically blind. The police case was registered as a case of robbery and attempted murder on account of the concealment of anal rape by the doctors under the instructions of the Dean of KEM, Dr. Deshpande, perhaps to avoid the social rejection of the victim, and her impending marriage. Sohanlal was caught and convicted, and served two concurrent seven-year sentences for assault and robbery, neither for rape or sexual molestation, nor for the “unnatural sexual offence” (which could have got him a ten-year sentence by itself).……………..On 24 January 2011, after she had been in this status for 37 years, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for euthanasia filed by Aruna’s friend journalist Pinki Virani, by setting up a medical panel to examine her. The court turned down the mercy killing petition on 7 March 2011. She passed away on 18 May 2015, after being comatose for 42 years.~~

By the way, Sohanlal did seven years of jail time and started a new life, most probably with a new name while Aruna spent 42 years awaiting a death which refused to oblige her. Some believe Sohanlal even got a job in some hospital in New Delhi. I read somewhere, that the police do not even have an updated picture of him to share with the general public to warn them. Which means he is a nameless and faceless man who once committed a gruesome crime; and one you could possibly have shared the elevator with on your visit to the hospital last week.

I dare you to try and get some sleep tonight.

And when you fail to, you would sit up, stare blankly into the darkness that engulfs your bedroom and ask you the same question you might have asked yourselves, many a times before. “What kind of a world do we live in?”

The answer is excruciating, singeing, but very simple. We live in the world we create for ourselves.

I am still quite disturbed to write most of what I want to write, so I am just going to share here, an article which I wrote a few days after the Nirbhaya Incident.

Much of that applies here to. Sadly, it applies to a lot of things around us. And yet, we so easily ignore such a pervasive answer because accepting it would mean we would also need to act on it.

Perhaps, we deserve the world we live in.


Check your backyard: 22nd December 2012

It’s like the pink elephant. The more I try not to think about it, the more it’s all I can think about. Besides, the newspapers are splashed with gory details of the incident, op-eds and comments from everyone and their uncles; the TV news is full of it and it’s all everyone is talking about. There’s no escaping the darkness of this thought.

Meanwhile the poor girl lies in a hospital bed fighting a cruel fate every second as the whole world outside fights the urge to rationalize this and pin the blame on someone. The obvious ones to blame are the perpetrators of the crime and in some extremely insensitive peoples’ opinion the victim herself!! Then, as always there are those who have oversimplified the problem by saying – they were bad people who did bad things. End of story.

I can’t help but wonder if we as a society will ever mature away from this annoyingly facile way of analyzing issues.

As I write this article my four month old is lying next to me on the bed. The most mischief he can manage so far is to give out a fake cry to lure me into picking him up and cuddling him. Think about it. An infant, my son for an example, does not even know he has an option to squash the fly sitting on his nose and bothering him. He just tries to wiggle his nose to make it go away. That’s how raw, naïve, innocent and benign all human beings are when they are born.

So how do we get from there to here?

How does a human being who doesn’t know how to hurt a fly turns into this monster who is capable of violating and hurting another human being in the way Nirbhaya was?

I do not believe the Ted Bundys and the John Gacys of the world (extreme examples I know, but used on purpose to drive the point home) and closer home these monsters like Ram Singh were born this way. I know there are researches and studies going on, trying to find if the root cause of such psychopathic/sociopathic acts is a biological malfunction or deformity. But while the jury is still out on that, I choose to believe that all children are born as innocent and pure as the one I consider my child to be. From here on, what goes wrong inside of them would depend on what goes wrong around them.

As a parent I am aware (and better be prepared) that my child will learn more from me and my husband than from anyone he will meet and in his life. The thought is as empowering and comforting as it is scary.

Why empowering and comforting? Because it makes me believe I can do something about making sure my kid has the right values to be the kind of human being a good society needs him to be. Why scary? Because I am yet to come across any parent who did not believe the same thing. Because I think the parents of the men who so brutally violated that girl also believed the same thing and acted accordingly. Because whether I like it or not, my child will learn more from what I do, act out and say when I am not even trying to teach him, rather than what I explicitly try to teach him. The parents of these criminals also inadvertently through their actions and thoughts turned their little boys into men who think it’s acceptable to do that to another human being. If they could make that mistake, what stops you or me from making it?

Please do not even try dismissing this article thinking that these men belong to a different economic or social stratum. The thought is nescient, insidious and well, just plain wrong! Such criminals belong to any and every strata.

Very recently I was a part of a candle light vigil held for seeking justice for Kshama Shetye, a pregnant woman who was killed in a car crash in Gurgaon in May 2012. The crash killed her driver too leaving behind her injured father, her comatose mother and a husband who is running from pillar to post to seek answers. Justice eludes him because the pockets of the father of the man who caused the accident are loaded. I heard during her husband’s speech in that rally, that merely ten days after the accident the suspect sat for his college exams. Someone raised him to behave that way. Someone raised him to think that it is OK to act this nonchalant after wiping out a man’s entire family. And who do you think taught him that?

Now clearly some parents do this because that’s who they are. People, with a rotten value system who in turn inherited the same from their parents. But do a little research and you will be surprised to know how many criminals actually come from such families. A vast majority are from families like ours.

I came across a fantastic book called ‘The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children’ by Robert Shaw, M.D. He puts forward a compelling argument loaded with a repertoire of case studies and incidents which tell you how commonplace such criminal mentality is. I agree the study and the book is primarily west-oriented but a closer look at our backyards will tell us things aren’t much different in this part of the world either. The book shocks the readers into submission from the very onset where it talks about the Columbine tragedy. More recent cases in point are the Virginia Tech Massacre or the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He goes on to substantiate how in most of these cases such behavior could be traced back to lack of foresight on behalf of the parent or just pure apathy.

As parents, perhaps we all suffer from the same kind of myopia i.e. ‘my child is different’. Indeed, he or she is. The real issue is that we as parents are not. Bad parenting is almost an epidemic in Robert Shaw’s opinion. I doubt if Eric Harris’ (Columbine High School shooting) or Adam Lanza’s (Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting) parents would have noticed their asocial behavior, or just tried to be a little more involved and communicative, things would have come to such a pass. Knowingly or unknowingly, they failed to notice as their child slowly morphed into a monster with absolutely no regard for human life.

Remember, as an infant these people too did not know how to squash a fly.

While the book and all the issues he highlights within regarding the current parenting styles merit a separate discussion, the common thread Dr. Shaw postulates, is the lack of our involvement in our own children’s lives. We just don’t have the time to teach them the right stuff or even monitor what they are learning as they grow. They spend more time learning god knows what from TV, internet and video games than from their own parents. A friend of mine cheers her 5 year old on when he kills people in a gang-war themed video game because the more he engages in that game the more time she has for Candy Crush or to chat with her friends on the phone. I have sometimes even seen her turn a blind eye when the child tortures his pets for fun using the tactics he learnt from that game. No wonder he is one of the most aggressive and irreverent 5 year old I have ever seen. Any guesses what the future holds for him, if his behavior goes unchecked?

In India, this problem gets further compounded. Not only do our children suffer due to our lack of time or inclination to be a meaningful contributor to their growth and learning; we also muddle the issue further with gender preferences. Yesterday’s TOI article got it right. Apart from exposure to trauma and abuse in childhood, it also pins the blame on a patriarchal society which attaches way too much value to its very questionable definition of masculinity. Men will be men, eh? That’s just the way it is. So they can express their superiority over women in whichever way they deem appropriate. During their formative years they exercise this over their female siblings, later in life on their wives, and then on their daughter-in-laws; and in such extreme and unfortunate cases on poor hapless strangers.

One of my husband’s aunts took offence of my confessions during my pregnancy that I would prefer to have a daughter. She even went far enough to say that I should be careful of what I wish for, lest it come true (as if that would be the most horrible thing to happen to me)! I have an ‘IIT topper’ uncle who thinks girls are a burden one can’t get rid of soon enough. Another uncle on my father’s side wants his son to get divorced and remarry because of his first wife’s inability to bear a son. These remarkable samples of our modern society exist all around us and are further tipping the scales against the female gender. Their frame of mind makes me sad. It saddens me even more to say that since this Sunday incident I have often wondered if they were right to tell me not to wish for a girl. Not because I think it would have been bad if I were blessed with a daughter; but because someone else might have had a son who grows up to be a Ram Singh.


But never mind all this. As always let’s just shed a tear today for our Arunas and Nirbahayas. And forget about all this tomorrow.



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