IMPHAL, December 1: Stigma and discrimination towards HIV/AIDS affected persons still continue. Even at the outset of the observation of the World Aids Day held at 1stBattalion Manipur Rifles Ground under the theme “Zero discrimination, Zero infection and Zero AIDS related deaths”, a widow living with HIV/AIDS was mocked at by a personnel of the Manipur Rifles at the said venue.
Kongbrailatpam ongbi Prameshwori Devi, an outreach worker told IFP that she came with handloom items for display and sales at the “Lingjel Nupi Lup” stall with some of her co-workers today morning. She entered from the western main entrance of the 1stMR and as she neared the chouka (Kitchen), some sepoys were standing there. As she passed by, one among the MR personnel called out and asked her to stop, she was approached by the MR personnel and had jeeringly exclaimed, “AIDS pakpa mayamda yen doira nakhoina ngashi pusillakeiba potsingsae” in a derogatory tone. Prameshwori put down the items she brought to the ground and told the personnel “Ngashi asuk fajakhraba numiitsida, nakhoina aduk chaoukhattaba wahei sijinnarishi karigino” with tears flowing down her cheeks. Herself, living with HIV for the last decade, she could no longer take the insults and slapped the personnel at the spot.
Outraged, she came to the stall and told her co-workers about the episode. Her friends had also talked to some concerned authorities about the incident. Later, she was approached at the stall by the same personnel along with some senior officers. The said personnel tendered an apology which she declined.
She told IFP, “Today, the episode may be over, but such persons particularly those assigned to protect and serve the public harasses us. They perceive widows like us in the wrong light and pass derogatory remarks. They are the ones who need to be sensitized about HIV/AIDS at the foremost”, she said.
Ironically, the Chief Minister in his presidential speech at the observance function had also emphasized on the need for effective HIV/AIDS awareness among the public.
Prameshwori is a resident of Heirok and had an arranged marriage to K Brajamani of Tera on February 1991. Her husband was also a rifleman of the 1st Manipur Rifles. According to her testimony, after the birth of her second daughter, her husband’s attitude began to change and she suspected drugs as the cause. She was also informed by a friend that her husband was involved in an extra marital affair. She contracted a sexually transmitted infection from her husband and both of them fell seriously ill. They went to Downtown Hospital in Assam and were recommended by the physician to test for HIV. Unfortunately, both of them tested positive. Prameshwori was shocked when she came to know her status but consoled herself to her fate.
As time passed, her husband wanted a son and without having any idea about PPTCT (Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission) gave birth to their third daughter. They had thought of testing the child after birth. On the other hand, Prameshwori’s husband was suffering from TB seriously, even in spite of taking DOT (Directly Observed Therapy), his condition became critical. At RIMS, he did the CD4 test and his immune system was found to be a low 7. The doctor recommended ART (Anti Retro-Viral Treatment) tablets which was unavailable freely then. Before the announcement of the news that ART would be available freely, her husband had passed away.
Widowed at an early age with three daughters, Prameshwori mortgaged her husband’s pension book for money to buy food and medicine. Till date, she has not been able to get back the pension book due to the huge interest amount charged by the loaner.
One of the most tragic moments of her life was when her second daughter Nandini (name changed) who was mentally retarded became sick. On testing her daughter at RIMS, it was painfully found out that she was also affected by HIV. She recounted that she had suffered an injury in her chest and at the same time her daughter also had an accident and smashed her lips on an iron bucket. As her daughter was breast feeding at the time, she presumed that it must have been due to blood to blood contact.
But braving all odds with her vocational skills, she has been providing for her three daughters and later formed a MSG (Mutual Support Groups) with other affected widows and organized monthly meetings till date. Recently, she also gave her testimonial at the Public Hearing conducted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights highlighting that PLHA (People Living with HIV/AIDS) should be given free ALT and Hb percentage test. She also performed at the Expo Mela Solo Dance Performance held at New Delhi. She presently works as an outreach worker in an NGO.