Friends recall 'life and soul' of community

Thu, Nov 15, 2012, 00:00

Savita Halappanavar was remembered by friends in Galway yesterday as the life and soul of the city’s Indian community. She held the position of “cultural secretary” of its representative committee, a very grand title admits Sunil Koppuri for what was “teaching children to dance to Bollywood songs”.

Mr Koppuri was one of the last people to see Ms Halappanavar in her full health.

When her parents came to visit Galway last month to celebrate her pregnancy, he helped to arrange their transport to the airport. “The last text we got from her was to thank my wife for making her parents feel welcome.”

Speaking fondly of the expectant mother’s sociable nature, Mr Koppuri said: “She was a really nice person. She loved dancing and enjoyed her holidays. She went to Greece and to Rome, and was talking about going to Turkey this December and wanted us to go with her.”

Ms Halappanavar, who worked in dentistry in Westport, Co Mayo, until she became pregnant, “was very well known” because of her role in organising the city’s annual Diwali festival of lights, he added.

Since she got involved in the event in 2009, it had been moved to a bigger venue and was scheduled for this week in the city’s Radisson hotel, with up to 200 people expected. “We were training right up to a few weeks ago,” he recalled.

An announcement on the group’s website states discreetly that “due to some unfortunate reasons we cancelled 2012 Diwali celebrations”. Mr Koppuri added: “We thank the Irish people for all the support. There have been a lot of people contacting us.”

There are an estimated 600 people of Indian origin in Galway, a mixture of Hindu, Muslim and Christian, with nurses, doctors, engineers and IT professionals well represented among them.


Dr CVR Prasad, who has been living here for the last 26 years, and was a close friend of Ms Halappanavar and her husband Praveen, said people were “shocked” by the news.

Of the circumstances leading to her death, Dr Prasad, a former consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Merlin Park hospital who now works in the Galway Clinic, said he understood “his [Mr Halappanavar’s] feeling is simply that it should not happen to anyone else. He is just shocked that a religious ethos can influence standard medical practice.”

Staff at University Hospital Galway were reluctant to speak, while hospital management said it did not want to pre-empt the inquiries under way.

Hundreds of people, including many members of the Indian community, are expected to attend a vigil for Ms Halappanavar this Saturday in Eyre Square, starting at 4pm.

*This article was amended on November 16th, 2012, to correct a factual error.