Adversity led them to the road to self-discovery. Dozens of HIV positive rural women in Allahabad chose to fight discrimination and are now economically self-reliant even though their husbands have died of AIDS. All this became possible after the UP Network of HIV Positive People (UPNP) lent them a hand, helping them get jobs.
The UPNP itself was formed three years ago by an HIV positive couple Ajita and Naresh Yadav to change the outlook of society towards HIV positive people.
The organisation decided to give financial and medical support to HIV positive women, many of whom were forsaken by their family.
Over 75 such women of Baharia, Soraon, Phulpur, Karchana, Pratappur and Karchana in the district have joined the organisation. They are now able to take proper care of themselves and their families.
"I came to know I was HIV positive when my husband died of AIDS two-and-a-half years ago. Though I was not at fault, people treated me like dirt. I had no money for food, let alone treatment. But I decided to fight back and joined the UPNP to support myself and other women like me," said Manju (name changed), resident of Saidabad block.
With the UPNP’s support, Manju said she got a job at the Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre (VCTC) at Moti Lal Nehru Medical College. She now earns Rs 6,500 per month.
"I don't feel shy to talk about my HIV positive status. In fact, I feel empowered, as I'm able to help HIV positive women lead a respectable life," she added.
Ajita Yadav, UPNP district secretary, said HIV positive rural women were fed up with harassment and decided to break social barriers and support each other. "They are stronger than urban women and determined to stop discrimination," she added.
Yadav said she had never felt embarrassed about her HIV positive status. "HIV gave me another reason to value life,"
UPNP president Naresh Yadav said the network helped rural women get jobs at HIV counselling and treatment centres in Lucknow, Varanasi and Allahabad.
"Initially, seven HIV positive women joined the organisation. When they realised there were more women like them, they shed their inhibitions and started talking about their status openly," he said.
Yadav said 400 HIV positive women had joined the UPNP's 15 branches all over UP.