Fifteen-year-old Bency, one of the two HIV positive children who fought a gritty battle against schools in Kerala for ostracising them, is dead. Her funeral is likely to be held on Saturday, her grandmother said on Friday.
Bency was admitted to the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College hospital last week after her condition deteriorated and her weight had dropped to as low as 16 kg. The teenager died on Thursday.
"Bency's funeral will take place when her uncle and family come from Mumbai. The uncle is arriving today (Friday) and his wife will come tomorrow…so in all likelihood it would take place tomorrow (Saturday) at the Kaithakuzhi Mar Thoma Church," her grandmother Sallamma told IANS.
Bency and her younger brother Benson, were infected by their parents, who died a few years ago. They were looked after by their 56-year-old grandmother, who gets a widow's pension of Rs.3,000 a month.
The HIV positive siblings got a lot of media attention when, led by their grandfather, they barged into the state secretariat seeking then chief minister AK Antony's intervention to stop schools from turning them away.
In 2004, after two years of struggle, they were re-admitted to the government-run school near their home at Chathanur in Kollam district, about 50 km from Thiruvananthapuram.
Their grandfather died in 2005.
Sallamma says it is 13-year-old Benson who comforts her.
"When I cry, he tells me not to cry because he can feel Munna (Bency) is lying in the bed next to his. He comforts me by saying that if I cry, then how can he bear the loss of his Munna," Sallamma said with tears in her eyes.
Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj, while she was Health Minister, had hugged and kissed them in public, sending a strong message to society that children like them should be loved and not shunned.
Soon after, HLL Lifecare Ltd provided them monthly financial assistance for food and travelling to school. While Benson has just passed his Class 7 exam, Sallamma is happy that Bency could clear Class 9 before her death.
The grandmother now wants that Bency's body be kept for some time at the Kollam District Hospital for people to pay their last respects.
"Then the body should be kept at our village council and then brought home before being taken to church for the last rites," Sallamma said.