Group threatened them before setting their house on fire

Senthil and his wife Selvi (names changed) cling to the partially-charred items inside their half-burnt house in Pallikaranai.

They look visibly shaken as death threats from some residents in their neighbourhood persist. The couple has HIV/AIDS. With their 15-year-old daughter, the family’s bread-winner who works at a book-binding firm, the couple moved into the asbestos sheet-roofed house in Kamatchi Amman Nagar eight months ago.

Diagnosed with HIV a decade ago, Senthil, a construction worker, took up painting jobs, while on anti-retroviral drugs. “When I started going for painting work, my co-workers who are also from the same locality grew suspicious. I was forced to tell them about my illness and then on began my ordeal,” says the 35-year-old.

The couple approached the police commissioner’s office on Wednesday as the Pallikaranai police failed to respond to their complaint.

Senthil married Selvi in 2010 through an NGO working for persons living with HIV and he adopted her teenaged daughters. The younger child is also HIV positive and is undergoing treatment at a facility in the city. “On Christmas night, my wife, daughter and I were attacked by our neighbours on our way back from church. They asked us to leave the colony. Three weeks ago, they disconnected the electricity connection to our house, and on Tuesday morning, they came back and burnt our house, and threw our medicines and groceries on the road,” he said.

To make matters worse, the couple’s landlord, who collects a monthly rent of Rs. 1,000 for the house, has demanded they vacate immediately. A few locals helped them with clothes and food after the ordeal.

A majority of the neighbourhood’s residents, however, is visibly enraged by the atrocities meted out to the family by some persons backed by a political party. “An elderly woman, related to one of those targeting the couple, sparked hatred following which the group of men, much hated by the locals, began harassing the couple,” says the family’s neighbour V. Latha Govindaraj, echoing the anger and helplessness felt by the locals against a bunch of henchmen.

Commissioner of police S. George has assured the family of protection and promised to take immediate action against the wrongdoers.

“We will explain to the locals there is no stigma attached to the condition and severe action, as per law, will be taken against those who refuse to allow the couple to live peacefully,” says Mr. George.

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