Times of India
04 June 2011
By D Madhavan
Perunkaranai (Cheyyur), India
Children affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) have been stigmatised in Perunkaranai, near Melmaruvathur – a little over 130 km south of Chennai. Some 30 HIV affected students, including 13 girls, studying between class 3 and 8 in Chitamur Panchayat Union Middle School have been forced to stay away from the school since September 2010.
The students had been going to the school in Perunkaranai since 2008, but their HIV status was largely unknown except to the school principal and the village panchayat president. "Some parents came to know about the children’s status through some teachers who were coming from the city last year, and raised the issue at the PTA meetings. They felt uneasy in sending their wards where some children are infected with HIV," said K Panchanathan, head master, Chitamur Panchayat Union Middle School.
The students are under the care of an NGO Arias Home of Hope. Before admitting them to the school in 2008, Arias Home had told the principal of the school about the children being HIV positive. The panchayat president also knew. The principal and the president had thought it better to not discuss the children’s health situation with others. But word got around.
Rumours started spreading about HIV in the village. Some came to believe that the infection could spread through water, sharing food and urinals. "Many villagers did not want these children sharing space with other normal students. We were unable to convince them," P S Elappan, president, Perunkkaranai village, one of the 42 villages in Chitamur Panchayat Union, in Kancheepuram, told The Times Of India.
The children are undergoing free Anti Retro Viral Therapy (ART) at the Government Hospital of Thoracic Medicine (GHTM) in Tambaram Sanatorium. The NGO activists are taking classes for these students on their own under the Sarva Sisyan Abhiyan’s (SSA) Education For All scheme, which aims to provide education mainly for school dropouts.
The NGO cites distance between the school and the home as a reason to withdraw the students from the panchayan union school. "Distance between the school and our home is around two kms and our children had to miss ART on many occasions as they found it difficult to come home during lunch and get ART and return to school again. I can’t say anything more as the issue is in the court," Pannerselvam, program manager, Arias Home of Hope, told TOI.
On May 30 this year, the Madras high court ordered notice to the school on a public interest litigation relating to this issue. The court also ordered notice to health and educational departments on the PIL filed by K Radhakrishnan of Chengalpet. The petitioner Radhakrishnan, who himself is an HIV-affected person, said that the children had the right to have free and compulsory education and refusal of education to them was a violation of fundamental right.
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