All of them have a common story to narrate - stigma and discrimination by the society because of their profession and the disease with which they are infected.

Tales of suffering and discrimination were narrated by Bangalore’s sex workers when they came together on Tuesday at a programme in Town Hall here.

“It’s been a hard life. Most of the time women are forced into sex work. Being a sex worker itself is a stigma and if she is HIV positive, it is a double blow, as society treats her with lot of discrimination,” said Shobha, a sex worker who is also HIV positive.

“Please leave us to lead a normal life like any other citizen in the society. We, sex workers, should get free and unbiased treatment at government hospitals like all other citizens. Most of the time, we are ill-treated at the hospitals, denied treatment and admission,” said Mamatha, another HIV positive sex worker.

The programme has been organised under Baduku project, an initiative in Bangalore urban district which addresses stigma and discrimination against women in sex work living with HIV.

The project has been started by three community based organisations (CBOs) working with women in sex work in Bangalore - Swathi Mahila Sangha (SMS), Vijaya Mahila Sangha (VMS), and Jyothi Mahila Sangha (JMS).

Baduku was started 18 months back after the CBOs were awarded the World Bank South Asian Regional Development Market grant for tackling stigma and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.

“Through Baduku project, we have organised several campaigns in the last 18 months to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. Our aim is to create awareness among the general population about HIV/AIDS,” Hareesh, an official of Swathi Mahila Sangha told IANS.

During the 18 month period, the CBOs have sensitized 11,500 women in sex work on HIV-AIDS. Several types of campaigns such as Rose Campaign, Human Chain Campaign, Bike Campaign, Signature Campaign, Shake-hand Campaign, Bus Campaign, Theatre Campaign, and street plays have been conducted to end discrimination against sex workers suffering from HIV/AIDS.

“We have also sensitized key secondary stake holders such as health service providers, police, partners and family members,” said Hareesh.

The sex workers explained how campaigns like distribution of roses and letters to police, hospital staff have helped reduce ill treatment.

“Today, in police stations and hospitals, they treat us well as they know about our project and the HIV prevention work we were doing. Few years back the same people were treating us very badly,” said Manjula, a sex worker, who supports the campaign though she is not HIV positive.

Over one lakh signatures were collected through a campaign to fight discrimination against HIV positive people.

In fact, National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) has marked Karnataka as “highly prevalent state”.

According to an estimate of Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society (KSAPS), the state has 85,000 sex workers.

The state has 250,000 HIV infected persons and 33,000 suffering from AIDS, as stated by KSAPS. But, only 22,000 members are registered under the society.

An estimated 2.5 million people in India, aged between 15 and 49, are feared to be living with HIV/AIDS, the third largest in the world.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS

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