After she tested positive for HIV three years ago, Bhanumati (name changed) was shattered. Living under the shadow of death, the 36-year-old feared she too would die of the infection like her husband. But today Bhanumati spearheads AIDS/HIV awareness programmes in villages of Uttar Pradesh.

Bhanumati, a resident of Tilauli village in Gorakhpur district, some 300 km from Lucknow, has constituted an all-women group that undertakes counselling of AIDS/HIV patients and also organises sensitisation programmes in India’s most populous State.

“I feel extremely satisfied in being associated with AIDS/HIV awareness programmes. I want to serve the patients afflicted with the dreaded disease so long as I am alive,” Bhanumati, who belongs to Other Backward Classes (OBC), told IANS.

Bhanumati’s group of nearly 35 members includes 17 HIV-positive women who organise AIDS awareness programmes in several villages of Gorakhpur district.

“It’s not only in Tilauli where the group functions. We operate in nearly 10 villages with the support of an NGO -Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG),” Bhanumati said.

“It’s only the NGO that assists us in developing pamphlets and other manuals related to the AIDS awareness programmes. The NGO also supplies us with models of the public-address system through which we are able to address people on a large scale,” she added.

Incidentally, it was during a free HIV check-up camp organised by the GEAG in association with government officials that Bhanumati was diagnosed with the HIV infection.

“We knew that her (Bhanumati’s) husband had died of HIV. So, we asked Bhanumati to go through the check-up after which she was diagnosed with the HIV infection,” Jitendra Dwivedi, a member of the GEAG, told IANS.

The people of Tilauli village socially boycotted Bhanumati after they came to know she was HIV positive.

“They (villagers) stopped inviting me to their houses during functions...It was quite painful... A life of stigma and isolation,” said Bhanumati.

“It all continued for nearly one year until I decided to work for HIV patients. I approached the NGO members, who appreciated my idea. Then came a new hope of living and I started working with them in AIDS sensitisation campaigns and programmes,” she added.

Today Bhanumati has a job of a peon at a private office in Gorakhpur and is taking care of her five-year-old daughter.

“Frankly speaking, my participation in the awareness programmes and my job keeps me occupied and as a result negative thoughts do not enter my mind. Actually during the work hours, I get totally diverted from my problems,” Bhanumati said.

“Today I have a mission to sensitise more and more people about HIV/AIDS. It’s the driving force behind me... I hope more and more villagers will join me in my awareness campaigns,” she added.