Times of India
03 August 2010
By Malathy Iyer
Exactly a year after residents of Hasegaon in Latur district withdrew their children from a school which had eight HIV–positive orphans, the state’s hinterland has thrown up another tale of stigmatisation. Social activists say that the villagers of Longhe near Kolhapur reportedly subjected an HIV–positive widow and her children to such discrimination that they were forced to flee to Mumbai.
The widow, 30–year–old Sangita Kamble, was asked to keep away from her work as an anganwadi worker even as her sixyear–old daughter, also HIV–positive, was denied admission in the village’s only school. Sangita’s 12–year–old son, who is perfectly healthy, was tormented as well. "The children in the school taunt him and threaten to ‘send him to his father’,’’ said Sangita, who reached Mumbai a fortnight ago in the hope that it might treat her better.
Sangita’s "journey to hell’’ started over 15 months ago when her husband, Chandrakant, was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and the rest of the family was asked to undergo tests. After Chandrakant died in June 2009, her in–laws told several family friends about her HIV–positive status.
"The village immediately took a stand against me,’’ she said. People would not sit next to her in public transport vehicles or would shout at her daughter for trying to mingle with their children, she said, struggling to keep her tears in check.
In Longhe, a hamlet of over 900 people, villagers stopped sending their children to the anganwadi.
"Parents told officials of the Integrated Child Development Services to sack her, but government officials refused to,’’ said Sanyogita Dhamdhere of Centre for Advocacy and Research. After Sangita lodged a complaint with the Kolhapur Network of Positive People in December (NKP), its members got in touch with CFAR and the issue was discussed with the district advisory committee on December 5, 2009.
NGO activists found that the villagers had, in fact, set up a separate anganwadi with their own money. "I was told that I could take a salary from ICDS but not attend work. This hurt me a great deal. Why should I not be allowed the dignity to work?’’ Sangita told reporters on Monday.
While she was also asked to keep away from her son’s school, it was the move to keep her daughter out of school that proved to be the last straw. "In December, I moved the district to ensure that my daughter got admission. But in May I was told I couldn’t,’’ she said.
When Hasegaon’s parents boycotted the only village school last year, NGOs and government officials had carried out a door–to–door campaign to sensitise people about HIV/AIDS. Within a month, the discrimination against the eight HIV–positive students stopped and the school reported better attendance. But in Longhe, there has been no change even
after a year.
"We have conducted door–to–door campaigns but in vain,’’ confessed Dhamdhere. Now in Mumbai, Sangita already has a few house jobs, and her children have got admission in school. But is she happy? "I want my dignity back. I had to literally live at home and watch TV for a year. I want my kids to be healthier and happier,’’ she said.
Will Mumbai be better for her? According to Dhamdhere, Sangita will go back to get her rights—as a land–owner and also at her job. "The ICDS has helped her. The government agencies have been with her, but society hasn’t so far,’’ she said. According to Mumbai District AIDS Control chief Dr S S Kudalkar, "Mumbai doesn’t have the discrimination that is evident in smaller towns. There, HIV/AIDS is still the scourge that TB was at the turn of the century.’’
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