BANGALORE: Thirty-two-year-old Shilpa lost her husband three years ago. Since then, Shilpa, who is HIV positive, has been ostracised by her husband's family and her parents and left with the responsibility of bringing up her two children.
"For no fault of mine, I am suffering from social alienation. I don't have financial or emotional support ... I am forced to hide my illness." Tears rolled down her face as she fed her son in the hot sun near the Mahatma Gandhi statue here during a demonstration on Monday. "I have also been denied a share in my husband's ancestral property," she said.
Shilpa's story is no different from that of the 20 other women who had come together to ask the State Government for help.
According to Radha, the main problem is lack of employment facilities that can help them earn a decent living. She works in a garment factory and earns Rs. 2,500 a month. "With HIV, it's taxing to work long hours," Radha said.
Sunita, a mother of three, said her earnings of Rs. 3,000 as a domestic help was insufficient to pay for rent, school fees and to meet household expenses. "This is what forces some of us to get into prostitution."
The HIV-positive women are pained over the poor state of the Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) Centre at the Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital where they go for treatment once in six months. The centre, located at one corner, does not have basic facilities such as drinking water and toilets. During the rainy season it is inundated with knee-deep water, they said.
Said Shilpa, "The Government, which campaigns that HIV does not spread by touch, itself discriminates against us by keeping us away."
The women pointed out that the Government is not giving them the necessary nutritional supplements along with the ART.
Among the demands made by the women include strict action against those who discriminate against HIV-positive people, that women who have lost their husbands be given employment in the Health Department, financial help for self-employment and employing women in HIV prevention programmes.
(All names have been changed.)