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PENGUIN BOOKS ARUNA’S STORY This is the book which brought a nation the law on passive euthanasia. In 2011, the Supreme Court of India passed a historic judgement permitting passive euthanasia in the country. This followed National Award-winning author Pinki Virani’s plea to the highest court in 2009. It’s a landmark law which places the power of choice in the hands of the individual, over government, medical or religious control which sees all suffering as ‘destiny’. Aruna’s Story (1998) is the book with which the Author catalysed the law on passive euthanasia. It continues to be read by a cross-section of society: the medical community worldwide, right to die with dignity believers, human rights activists and gender-study students. As a first in Indian publishing in the non-fiction genre, it set a trend for journalists to follow in writing books. A leading critic described it as ‘India’s answer to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood’. A noted financial newspaper said the path-breaking book—which introduced the faction style (facts presented in fiction format with underpinnings firmly in non-fiction) in the subcontinent—had ‘changed the face of Indian writing for all time’. Pinki Virani, with four best-selling books, has a body of work which gives voice to individuals who have none. It also leads to landmark legislation, not just once but twice. Her tireless campaigning for human dignity has lead to laws for two of the most vulnerable times in a human being’s life—in the beginning as a child and at the end as a terminally ill patient. Once Was Bombay (1999) is reference material for sociology specialists and was cited by then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in his speech on collapsing cities. Once Was Bombay, referred to as a ‘cult book’ on social networking sites, is one of the first books in English publishing to present the city in a non-romanticized, frills-shorn narrative in the faction genre. The template of Once Was Bombay—the vicious pillage of a city’s cosmopolitanism by provincial politicians in the name of language, then religion—has proved particularly prescient.

Bitter Chocolate: Child Sexual Abuse in India (2000)—which ensures inclusion of hitherto un-researched boy-children—earned the Author international plaudit for being the first in the Indian subcontinent to courageously speak up as a victim of incest. For Bitter Chocolate, Pinki Virani has been honoured with a National Award by the Government of India. Her sustained crusading since 2000 has assisted in India passing a law against sexual abuse of children, the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSO). The law includes four of her suggestions to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. Bitter Chocolate has been quoted by the Madras High Court. Since the book’s release, there have been attempts by some courts across the country to follow a few practises recommended in Bitter Chocolate to protect the child, during trial, from its perpetrator and from excessive re-traumatization. Deaf Heaven (2009), her first work of fiction, was listed among international contenders for the Impac Dublin Literary Prize. This novel has earned her praise as a writer who is willing to take literary risks. Deaf Heaven subverts form and structure to experiment with a deceptively simple narrative underlining an urgent perspective on contemporary India, its internal terrorism and the superficiality of contemporary politics pushing the nation at tipping point into modern-day fascism. Critics called it ‘a truly Indic work’, a national newsweekly magazine placed it among best ten books of the year. Eminent litterateur Khushwant Singh praised the style of story-telling as ‘ingenuous’ and described Deaf Heaven as ‘profound and profane, all at once’. Born 1959, in a Dongri-chawl (ghetto-ized area in one of south Bombay’s seven original islands), Pinki Virani began working as a typist at age eighteen. In journalism she began as a cub-reporter for a newspaper and is India’s first woman editor of an eveninger. She is married to veteran journalist and public intellectual Shankkar Aiyar and divides her time between Delhi, Bombay, Pune.

Aruna’s Story The True Account of a Rape and its Aftermath

Pinki Virani

PENGUIN BOOKS USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia New Zealand | India | South Africa | China Penguin Books is part of the Penguin Random House group of companies whose addresses can be found at

First published in Viking by Penguin Books India 1998 Published in Penguin Books 1999 Copyright © Pinki Virani 1998 All rights reserved 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 ISBN 9780140277623 Typeset in

by SÜRYA, New Delhi

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

For Roshanara, and for all mothers who are the guiding light in their daughters’ world

Contents Autor’s Note


Into the Twilight Zone


Out of Konkan Land


Towards an Elusive Mukti


The Motives of Mercy



Author’s Note I had begun work on another book, not completely nonfiction like this one, when this assignment came. I was hesitant. As a journalist I report on events in order to fulfil people’s right to know. To write an entire book, would I be exploiting Aruna Shanbaug’s condition? I have kept in touch with Aruna for a long time. When I was telling Bachi Karkaria, Senior Editor, The Times of India, about Aruna, she suggested I write 1,400 words for The Sunday Times. The response was staggering. Perfect strangers found out my phone number (this is not easy since it’s not listed under my name) to tell me they would pray for Aruna’s release; most of them were women. The dean and KEM Hospital were flooded with letters and calls, from as far away as Mizoram. Subsequently the hospital began receiving letters from readers of regional papers (my copy had been lifted and used without credit to either The Times or me), in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil, Malyalam and Telugu. Later, when a friend returned from a Dubai holiday she told me about a nurse who had been raped in a hospital a little

aruna’s story before her marriage, who suffered brain damage as a result and who is still suffering in the same hospital. She had read a ‘special report from India’, a no-credit rewrite of my article in one of the Middle Eastern English dailies, had cut it and mailed it to her sister in Canada. Indians everywhere would be interested in reading Aruna’s story, the publishers said. An incentive to write 75,000 words. But where would I get the details from, her personal life, her past, addresses of a family long gone, even the police file which was twenty-five years old? I asked KEM if they could locate her personnel file, year 1966. They voiced their doubts. They found it. I took this as a good sign even though I knew the rest of the research would be at enormous cost, mentally, physically and financially. Very slowly, but surely, lost files began reappearing; people provided their time and assistance because it was Aruna’s story. Things which I thought would be near impossible to find out—several sources have died since 1973, mostly of old age—became known to me concretely through other sources I never realized existed. Doctors gave freely of their time, patiently explaining medical terms, wondering aloud why their medical community had done no case-study on staff nurse Aruna Shanbaug. In the course of my investigation I discovered how exactly Aruna had been raped. I also discovered, to my shock, that the rapist did not serve a sentence for it. This is when I decided that Aruna’s real story had to be told. Never before in my life have so many people been so directly responsible for my being indebted on behalf of a woman who has no idea that this has been written. I am grateful to all those who have been named in this book starting with Dr Pragnya Pai, including those whose names have been changed on their request. I also appreciate the assistance provided to me by the Bombay police, working x

author’s note and retired, starting with officers T.K. Chowdhary, K. Subrahmanyam, S.P.S. Yadav and V. Balachandran. And then there is deep gratitude to two men who have been my pillars as I wrote this. Shankkar Aiyar and David Davidar, thank you.


Into the Twilight Zone


is eyes glittering in the dark, the man waits. He touches the dog chain, it is there. Wanting to be used. Its metal links feel cold to his fingers, but cruelly comforting. He has been seeing himself doing this for a long, long time. Today he had wrapped the dog chain around his own neck thinking it to be her slender waist. Her white, milkwhite waist with its delicate curves. In the middle of which is her perfectly round, tiny belly button. He has seen it shining through her sari before. Her, with only the dog chain on her. Around her waist. Resting on her curves, caressing her navel. Above which rise and fall those small round, creamy breasts. Often he has imagined them filling his palms perfectly. Her light-brown nipples tautening in his cupped palms as she stands there, berating him in front of everybody. He would tighten his palms, squeezing the nipples sharply. She would walk away. Not this time. She will be here soon. He touches it again, the lengthy dog chain under his bush shirt, looped loosely around his waist on the top of his khaki half-pants. And waits. Above him, at ground level, the world goes about its business. Double-decker buses brimming with people roar past, taxis toot impatiently ignoring the ‘Hospital—No Horns’

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