The women were from across the State and in different age groups. But, they all wanted answers to their problems – if for one it was getting possession of her husband's house, for several others it was finding ways to educate their children. The women who were into flesh trade said they did so because they needed the money to support their families.

Although many of them have found venues to eke out a living either by setting up a small business of their own or as domestic helps or construction labourers, some continue to struggle to manage their family. In all these cases, the women were cheated by the men they married.

A 20 year old woman, who was sitting with her friend outside the venue of the public hearing, organised by Tamilnadu AIDS Initiative of the Voluntary Health Services here recently said, “What is my problem? I want money, but I don't have it.” The married women had been thrown out of their homes because they were HIV infected or had become ‘ilakku makkal' (commercial sex workers). The women had struggled to bring up their children who later disowned them.

TAI had come to their rescue and while the older women had become counsellors and guided younger women to get out of the trade, the latter had yet to make such a bold decision. Urvashi* from Madurai is being guided by Margaret*. While Margaret has become a full-time counsellor for TAI, Urvashi who is 20 years younger says, “I could not leave the profession. I have two daughters aged four and eight. My husband drinks and does not work. I have to take care of my family. I have studied up to 10th standard. At every decent job I have held I have been cheated of my rightful wages. I have to feed my children and that costs money.”

All the women who were called upon to speak of their travails before a jury of legal experts had a similar story to narrate. Their lack of awareness about their rights led their subjugation and ill-treatment.

Keywords: HIV Aids

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