Friday, September 18, 2015

The right to die or rather the allowance to die: The life of Aruna Shanbaug, a case in point.

We all talk about freedoms and rights. And how every government and every individual must try to safeguard them. But it is in the nature of rights that they are not absolute...they are subject to reasonable restrictions in the overall general interests of people. Because sometimes rights of some encroach into rights of others. In fact one right of an individual might encroach into another right of that very individual. One aspect of a right could even contradict other aspects of the same right. There is always a fine print when it comes to interpreting anything that is generic or universal.

One such right is "The right to live". The right to live has been evolving hand in hand with human evolution. To safeguard one's own life is the basic prerogative of every living being. When there was no agriculture, people had to somehow live, so a major part of their life went into searching for and making food. So how to live for a given day formed the major part of their life. And then agriculture came in. But disease still didn't go away. There were no preventive vaccines.  Forget about preventive medicine, the medicine was not even curative. How to safeguard themselves from diseases and how to cure a disease was another important work they had to deal with. With Science, man overcame these and many other problems and he was almost about to lead a happy and a pretty long life and just then he made a U-turn where life-style and a plethora of other factors started reducing the longevity of life. Yeah, the last few generations had the luck of leading pretty long lives, in fact touching that ideal age of 100, but the generation which is currently 50 and above perhaps can't even dream of such an ambition.

But why am I talking about longevity of life now? My intention was actually to talk about the quality, NOT the quantity of life. A complete discussion that touches upon every aspect of this right, in its entire length and breadth, is impossible in the scope of this blog. In fact that is not my interest area anyway. My interest here is to emphasize that "The right to live" inherently means "The right to a decent life" and that such a right sometimes might not be realized without "The right to die". Ofcourse, the debate about Euthanasia and Passive Euthanasia is not new and there is never one right way to deal with it. The solution for such cases has always been subjective, in a sense that law has not arrived at a generic act or standard for it yet and has been taking a subjective stance so far when interpreting such cases.

The case of Aruna Shanbaug is one such case. This case had all the elements that went wrong. It was indeed a ghastly instance of rape (as per me and perhaps as per the current law too), yet it was not rape as per the law then. It was merely a sexual assault. Sodomizing a person by strangling her with a dog chain to the extent that she had to remain in a vegetative state for 42 years of 67 years of her life, IS NOT RAPE? And for God's sake, I wish I never come across generous arguments like these ("The incomplete case of Aruna Shanbaug") who shower so much of mercy on remorseless culprits. What do they expect? That culprits who have no remorse of the crime they committed, be treated with politeness, love and compassion? Bloody! Even if the culprit had remorse, how does it make any difference when he/she had already spoilt a life? Again what do they (Udaaraswabhavulu / people-generosity-personified) expect? Any person who feigns some remorse deserves remission of punishment? Again do they even realize that such a consideration leads to a society where some commit crime without any fear and some who are on the borderline of good and bad are encouraged to shift towards bad? So there is no good and bad, everything IS? It JUST IS, it just happens with or without any reason...?

Law and punishment should take their own course at the end of the day! But what irritates me is this kind of counter-punishment argument (Applying 'Om shanti shanti shanti hi' mantra on demons who would continue to commit crimes if not punished appropriately! Know what? That is uttered after the demons are slain, not before that, to stop them from being slayed!) which pops up every now and then to alter the course of law and what sort of punishment it should grant. (And don't get me started on "No Death Penalty" argument, I should better write a book on that...on why Death Penalty can never ever be erased regardless of what times we are in!)

So that definition of rape was one thing. Another thing is that, this is NOT a case where time can heal it! Aruna has been left in a Permanent Vegetative State (PVS). There is no way of getting better. Her life has gone to a point of no return. So waiting for anything (apart from her death) is pointless!

The third thing is that her family members were not ready to fight for her rights. As per the media reports, her family members were not even available to take care of her. The details on this part are not much discussed in the media, so I don't know. But what is evident is that it is a journalist, Pinky Virani, the biographer of Aruna's story, who fought for Arun's right to die peacefully. Virani's fight is definitely laudable, especially in a society which always equates humanity to taking enough care to ensure that people are alive, (doesn't matter how alive they are!), in a pro-life society where talking about death is taboo and offering a peaceful death amounts to killing and sin! I can, by all means, imagine the opposition Virani faced from all fronts.

I came across this news of Aruna's (natural and physical) death when I was in Mumbai in May, when I myself was leading my life in a vegetative way of its own*. Incidentally, owing to my ignorance, that was also the first time I read about her case. I wanted to blog about it then itself, but something stopped me. As I was browsing about the case, I saw tweets and FB posts which read "This case is a shame on India!" (I'm not on FB or Twitter, but those were the popular comments pulled out from social media into the news). I assumed that the case has seeped into the awareness of most of the people, but recent conversations with friends made me aware that wasn't the case.

I don't know if SC's Judgement was right or wrong in Aruna's case. I doubt if God cared to take any action in her case. 42 years of suffering vouches for it - God did not care enough for her! Not enough, Gods just didn't care for her, at least it seems. (Unless we invoke the theory of Karma which I hate to invoke here! It doesn't make sense! It is during such times that I feel like thrashing this whole theory into dust-bin!) But for the soulless life Aruna led, if her soul was given a voice even for a moment, I'm pretty sure, it would beg - "Kill me please!"


*No point discussing more and more about a 'conscious vegetative existence' because nobody would understand it unless one goes through it. No point, all the more, discussing it because it does seem like I'm gradually coming out of that state ever since late August, after I gave up on all sort of materialistic pursuits. If I retreat into the phase of void (which would inevitably happen when there is some sort of "materialistic" pursuit), that is when talking about it or acting upon it, might make more sense. But since I wouldn't retreat into any materialistic pursuit until my world changes or instead I change my world, I hope I wouldn't be put to the ordeal of experiencing void once again!

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