For 42 years, a room measuring not even 200 square feet in Ward Number 4 at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital was home to former staff nurse Aruna Shanbaug, who lay semi-comatose following a sexual assault on the hospital premises in November 1973. The room, a poignant reminder of the decades-long vigil by the hospital’s nursing staff, will soon be part of a state-of-the-art one-point crisis centre for sexual assault victims. The centre will be named after Aruna, the hospital’s longest-admitted patient who died in May this year.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has given his nod to the proposal for the crisis centre and its christening after Aruna Shanbaug. “Normally, the CM does not issue directives in general matters to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. But in this case, he has endorsed the setting up of such a centre,” said Additional Municipal Commissioner Sanjay Deshmukh.
According to the proposal, the centre will be established in three stages with a budget of Rs 5.75 crore and will span 1,000 square feet in Ward 4A, currently a female medicine ward, of the hospital in Parel.
The centre will function based on recommendations made by the Justice Verma Committee formed in the aftermath of the December 2012 gangrape in Delhi. It will be a one-point crisis room for immediate medical, legal and psychological need of sexual assault survivors.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, through 2014, 93 rape cases were reported daily across India. “This centre will have forensic examiners, gynaecologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, social support advocates and police officers so that all help is given to the victim at one point without any stress on her to go about completing formalities,” said Dr Harish Pathak, head of KEM’s forensics department.
Shanbaug was sexually assaulted and strangled with a dog chain by a ward assistant in the hospital’s basement. The attack rendered her bedridden and in a vegetative state until her death due to cardiac arrest this May. The tiny air cooler, a wooden closet, the bed, her favourite audio-cassette player and a flower vase previously adorning her room have been removed. A sign on the door now reads: “This was Aruna Shanbaug’s room.” The room will specifically be used as a “safe centre laboratory”, the proposal says.
The hospital has plans for in-house DNA profiling, involving purchase of equipment worth Rs 3.25 crore that will be placed in the room, along with other forensic examination tools for evidence collection. “Hospitals usually rely on the lone Kalina Forensic Sciences Laboratory for DNA reports in sexual assault cases. With this machine, we will get samples tested within 48 hours and speed up the investigation process,” Pathak added.
The centre will also offer fresh sets of clothes for victims whose clothes are submitted for evidence collection. An advanced toxicology laboratory, estimated to cost Rs 1 crore, to analyse whether the victim was under the influence of psychotropic drugs or alcohol, will also be installed.
“We always wanted to keep her (Aruna’s) memory alive in the hospital. This centre will be useful. But it may lead to over-crowding in that narrow ward corridor,” said nursing tutor Kalpana Gujula, who was a student when Shanbaug was assaulted.
Dr Avinash Supe, dean of KEM Hospital, said, “The process of setting up the centre will begin after the monsoon.”
The hospital will also train a set of nurses, medical officers, investigating agencies, judicial officers and forensic scientists on their respective roles at the centre.