HIV widow, children forced to flee home

MUMBAI: Exactly a year after parents in Hasegaon of 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 a HIV-positive widow and her children to such discrimination that the three 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 six-year-old daughter, also HIV-positive, was denied admission in Longhe village's only school. But worse was the fact that Sangita's 12-year-old son, who is perfectly healthy, was tormented as well. "The other children in the school keep taunting 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" began over 15 months ago when her husband, Chandrakant, was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and the rest of the family too was asked to undergo tests. After Chandrakant died in June 2009, her in-laws told several family friends about her positive status. "The village immediately took up a stance 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 first started with not allowing their children to attend the anganwadi. "Parents told officials of the Integrated Child Development Services to sack her but the government officials refused to," said Sanyogita Dhamdhere of Centre for Advocacy and Research. "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.