The Aruna Shanbaug case grew old with me. Literally.
Perhaps the people of India were deeply shocked when this made news in 1973. I would never know. While she lived in a world which we will never understand and ‘justice’ dragged on for years, I grew up living a happy and carefree life. Far far away from a world of discriminations, violence or notions of good touch and bad touch.
My first association with the case came with the word ‘euthanasia’. Not with Rape. The gruesomeness of the case did not suddenly dawn on me one fine day but slowly made its presence felt over the years as I grew up. Because rape was not a socially acknowledged or acceptable word then, and people would do anything to sweep it under the carpet and keep it tightly there. Even the doctors at KEM Hospital did not report the sodomy for fear that Aruna would face social ostracism when she recovered and that it could damage her reputation. It took another 40 years and yet another horrific case, this time in Delhi, for society and lawmakers to acknowledge and accept that rape could be much more than just vaginal. And it took Aruna’s death (finally) for society and media to talk about her story openly.
Which makes me wonder. Like Jesus did in the past, how many women or people would have to bear the cross of society and lawmakers’ ignorance and apathy before an iota of justice is delivered to them and to others. Why is that it takes only a heinous crime for people to take notice of the lacunae in our laws or just as heinous societal norms?
Perhaps that is why as a society, we have not yet been able to evaluate justice objectively. But only emotionally.
I, being a part of this very society, am also struggling to understand. Many questions come to mind. Sohanlal completed his sentences as per the charges and laws of that time. The fact that he was wrongly charged was not his fault but the fault of the law (anal rape was not acknowledged as rape) as well as societal outlook (doctors didn’t file a case of rape) of that time. So, is the society justified in taking out its ire against him after all these years? If a person has served his/her sentence as per law and is truly repentant about the crime, is he/she not allowed to live the rest of his/her life with a bit of dignity? What about his family who are innocent except for the fact that they accepted him back in their lives; should they also suffer for his crime? Sohanlal comes from a poor Dalit community, perhaps that’s why he worked as a sweeper in the Hospital and was also treated badly (if we believe his side of the story though it will never justify the crime). So, by hounding him now after so many years, are we not again perpetuating the same discrimination that was meted out to him years ago? If Sohanlal was a businessman from an upper caste, would we have hounded him just as badly?
I don’t have any answers, only questions. All I can see is that actions have had retaliatory reactions and there’s a chain of hate everywhere. As a friend said, it’s this chain of actions/reactions that one should seek to deal with (as per Buddhist philosophy). And this can come only with Forgiveness.
But then who does one forgive? My women friends can’t forgive Sohanlal. I can’t forgive the society and system of justice. If we could have asked Aruna whose life was a series of injustice, would she be able to forgive anybody? Even though he is repentant, will Sohanlal ever be able to forgive himself? Should he be allowed to forgive himself? Should society ever forgive such people?