Mumbai: Did Aruna Shanbaug's family abandon her?

This question triggered a debate between the family members and the nursing staff at KEM yesterday; while the family insisted they had taken care of Shanbaug for 12 years and visited her every month after that, the nurses said they never saw any family members and the hospital staff was the only family she had for 42 years

Was Aruna Shanbaug abandoned by her family after she was assaulted? This question became a point of debate between the family and the nursing staff of KEM on the day of her death.

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(From left) Vinayak, Savitri and Mangala Nayak, the children of Shanbaug’s eldest sister, Shanta Nayak. Shanbaug used to live with the Nayak family when the incident happened
(From left) Vinayak, Savitri and Mangala Nayak, the children of Shanbaug’s eldest sister, Shanta Nayak. Shanbaug used to live with the Nayak family when the incident happened

While the four children of Shanbaug’s elder sister, Shanta Nayak, said that they took care of her for over twelve years after the tragic incident in 1973 and visited her at least once or twice a month after that, the nursing staff said that none of the family members ever showed up at the hospital and the KEM Hospital staff were the only family Shanbaug had for 42 years after the assault.

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Nurses at KEM Hospital said that not only did they give Aruna Shanbaug medication, but they also sponged her, washed her hair, changed her clothes and bedding, and cut her nails for 42 years. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Nurses at KEM Hospital said that not only did they give Aruna Shanbaug medication, but they also sponged her, washed her hair, changed her clothes and bedding, and cut her nails for 42 years. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Fond memories
Shanbaug belonged to a large family of six brothers and three sisters, and she was the eighth sibling. Aruna, who had studied till Std XII, was the most educated person in the family, which hails from Haldipur village in Karwar, Karnataka She came to Mumbai, and began living with her eldest sister Shanta’s family in the BMC quarters in Worli and started working in KEM Hospital as a junior nurse.

Shanta had three daughters, Mangala (63), Vijaya (52), Savitri (60) and a son, Vinayak (55). “I was just 12 years old then and Aruna used to stay with us when she had come to the city. I remember going out with her to gardens and parks on holidays. It is very hard for me to digest that she is no more,” said Vinayak, who now lives in Virar and works at a bank in Nariman Point. Vinayak lit Shanbaug’s funeral pyre yesterday.

Shattered
In 1973, when Shanbaug was sexually assaulted by Sohanlal Valmiki, the family found out about the incident only after one of Shanbaug’s friends came to inform them. Mangala said, “I still remember the day. It was 10 am and we had prepared idlis for breakfast, as Aruna liked them. Her friend rushed into the house and said that Aruna isn’t feeling well. Only after reaching the hospital did we find out about the actual incident,” she said.

Contradicting the staff’s allegations that the family had abandoned Shanbaug after the incident, the family members said they took care of her for over 12 years. “We did everything; we took care of her. We were of the same age as her and I remember going to the hospital with tiffin boxes. We cleaned her up, washed her and did everything possible till the time we could,” said Mangala’s sister, Savitri.

Later, as the three sisters and Vinayak got married and moved to different parts of the city, they said, it became difficult for them take care of Shanbaug the same way. While Mangala moved to Panvel after marriage, Savitri and Vinayak moved to Virar and Vijaya passed away a few years after her wedding.

“There was not much difference in our ages; we lived, played and gossiped about various things together. Whoever says we abandoned her is lying. We lived far off and even our mother wasn’t well. We also had our families to take care of, and it was possible to check on Aruna only occasionally. But we never abandoned her. We used to visit her once or twice a month,” said Mangala.

‘Never saw them’
When mid-day spoke to the nursing staff about family members visiting Shanbaug, they said no relative visited her and the hospital staff was the only family she had. “There is not a single nurse that hasn’t tended to her. Taking care of Shanbaug was something that no nurse avoided. None of the family members ever came to see her,” said a nurse, on condition of anonymity.

Also Read: Mumbai nurse Aruna Shanbaug, who was in coma since 1973, passes away

The nurses claim that they took such good care of Shanbaug that she never had any bedsores. “She would keep tossing and turning,” said one of the nurses, adding that not only did they give her medication, but also sponged her, washed her hair, changed her clothes and bedding and cut her nails for 42 years after the attack.

'Eternally grateful'
While there is a difference of opinion between whether or not they abandoned Shanbaug, the family members said they will remain eternally grateful to the hospital staff for what they did for her. “We could never take care of her the way they did. We are thankful to the staff for doing such a wonderful job of taking care of Aruna,” said Savitri. “The nurses of KEM have done a lot for Aruna. We don’t think anyone would have looked after her better than the staff at KEM. We can never repay what they have done for her,” said Santosh Bhat, one of Shanbaug’s relatives.

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