Metrolife: The Savita you didn’t know

Metrolife: The Savita you didn’t know

A demonstration at Dublin Castle ahead of the referendum on May 26. Savita Halappanavar has become an icon for abortion activists, who have won a major battle.

Andanappa Yalagi speaks with the calmness of one who has finally come to terms with the tragedy that befell his family. The father of Savita Halappanavar feels her death has not gone in vain: a historic referendum last week legalised abortion in that country.

The 72-year-old retired engineer lives with his wife Akkamahadevi in Belagavi, engaged in gardening and reading. With the noise of the past few weeks subsiding, Metrolife asked him to recall his fondest memories of his daughter. “She was talented. She was a gifted dancer, proficient in forms like Bharathanatyam and other forms. She used to teach dance to some Indian students in Ireland,” he says.

Savita was also a very good orator. Bold, well-spoken and opinionated, she proved her mettle in high school when she bagged the first prize in a state-level Kannada ‘Aashubhashana’ (public extempore speaking contest). She loved Bollywood movies and used to watch them whenever possible.

Savita adored Basaveshwara, the 12th century saint-poet, and was immensely fond of his vachanas. “Even in Ireland, she used to offer worship to him every day,” Yalagi says. A good cook, Savita used to prepare a variety of vegetarian dishes (she was a steadfast vegetarian). Her favourite was ‘jowar roti’, a North Karnataka speciality.

Despite her busy schedule, Savita took care to maintain contact with all her colleagues in India, even after going to Ireland. Her friendly nature made her popular among her friends of whom she had many, from school, college and office.

A good student since childhood, she developed an interest in medicine early. She became a dentist eventually and was good at her work, recalls her father.

With a degree from a dental college in Belgaum, she also cleared an examination to qualify to practise in Ireland. She wanted to study more while practising. The last three months that Yalagi spent with his daughter hold a special place in his heart. “Her mother and I spent three months in Ireland with her; there are so many memories of that time. She used to drive us to historic, beautiful places every other day. Our best time was spent with her in beautiful gardens there.”

When Metrolife asks for pictures, he is silent for a second. “I don’t have any, even though we took more than 6,000 pictures while we were there. She said she would send them to us but she passed away four days after we came back to India.” 

As we struggle to find the right words to say, he shakes himself from his reverie and says briskly, “I feel her birth and eventual sacrifice was God’s plan to change the rule in Ireland so that others don’t have to struggle like her.”

She became the face of a movement 
Abortion has been illegal in firmly Catholic Ireland. The death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 changed that. The dentist died of septicaemia in 2012 after she was refused an abortion at University Hospital Galway. Immediately after her death, protests and candlelight vigils followed.

Protestors, prominent among them her parents, pushed for a fundamental change in laws. In the end, 66 percent of Ireland voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment that effectively bars women from having abortions under most circumstances. The government has emphasised the broad-based nature of the vote — cutting across age, class, gender, and locality.

The referendum was held on May 26.