Savita Halappanavar: the early years
It’s almost a year since the young dentist died at University Hospital Galway, after a miscarriage. Through interviews with family and friends, both in India and in Ireland, this extract from a new book builds a picture of the girl with the diamond smile
Savita passed her exams and registered on July 11th, 2012. She was then granted a licence to practise as a dentist in Ireland.
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That month she was delighted when she did a pregnancy test at home and it was positive. She called her best friend in Ireland, Mrdula Vaseali, to ask what to do. Mrdula told her to register with a GP. Savita hadn’t needed to before, being in excellent health. She was vegetarian, did not smoke or drink and did yoga every day.
She registered with the primary healthcare centre in Doughiska, a residential area next to Roscam, where she and Praveen had moved the previous year. Savita was seen at the practice in early October last year, then referred for her first appointment at University Hospital Galway, with Dr Katherine Astbury, on October 11th. The doctor did an ultrasound scan to establish how far Savita’s pregnancy had progressed.
“Dr Astbury confirmed that Savita was 17 weeks pregnant, and she told us Savita was doing well,” Praveen said in his statement to the Garda following her death. “She gave us the date the baby was due as March 30th, 2013. Savita shed tears of happiness when she saw the baby on the monitor.”
Her parents had arrived to visit in August. Because she was pregnant, Savita decided she would not begin dental practice until after the baby’s birth. While Praveen went to work, Savita took her parents to “all the important sites” around Galway, says her father. He was particularly taken with Irish supermarkets. He loved going on his own, to look at the fruit and vegetable displays.
Savita and her mother cooked Indian food in the house; she also took her parents to some hotel restaurants, where Andanappa was underwhelmed by the food.
He and Akhmedevi liked the Irish a lot. “I liked talking to the people. Everyone was so open and friendly.”
Savita brought her parents to view houses around Roscam, as she and Praveen planned to buy one before the baby was born. “Some very fine houses,” says Andanappa.
It meant, he and his wife realised, that she was not planning to return to live in India in the near future, which saddened them. “But she was so happy. She loved Ireland and the peace there. She was happy.”
They were very excited about Savita’s pregnancy, too. Life in Ireland seemed to be as good as they could have hoped for their daughter. For her parents’ last few days in Ireland, Savita arranged a going-away party and baby shower at her home on the evening of Saturday, October 20th.
Savita planned that they would then all go to Dublin for a few days, to see the capital. Afterwards, on the Tuesday, she and Praveen would take her parents to the airport for their flight home.
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Savita was immersed in Lingayat values in India and, subsequently, Ireland. The Yalagis taught their children to be the best they could be as individuals and within their community.
Children are consecrated to the religion in a key ceremony in Lingayatism known as Garbhalinga Dharane. It is quite different from western baby showers, which centre on giving gifts for the baby. It is usually held when the mother is about seven months pregnant, but Savita brought it forward so that her parents could be present.
It involves an ishtalinga, an oval-shaped symbol of Parashiva – the aspect of the god Shiva that is beyond human comprehension: absolute reality – that Lingayats wear on a cord around their necks.
The baby’s ishtalinga is blessed and tied around the mother’s belly; a few days after the birth it is tied to the baby, in the Lingadharane ceremony, to ensure the child will attain enlightenment as part of its journey through a life of dignity, honesty and meaning.
“Savita and her mother organised the shower, and Savita’s mother prepared food Savita liked,” says Praveen. ‘They dressed up in new clothes and said prayers, and there were some friends around, too. Savita was on top of the world. We were so excited, all talking about the baby.”
That night she couldn’t sleep. The pain she had had in her lower back for the past nine months was worse than usual, and radiating around her pelvis. At about 9am Praveen phoned the maternity ward at University Hospital Galway.
“I spoke to a midwife and explained what was happening, and she said to come on in. So we told her parents we were going to the hospital.”
This is an edited extract from Savita: The Tragedy that Shook a Nation, which will be published by Transworld Ireland on October24th