Two sisters — aged 13 and 11 — have been dumped by relatives in an abandoned, one-room dingy house on the outskirts of their ancestral village only because they are believed to be infected by HIV.
The parents of Suman and Surya (names changed) died of AIDS this year.
The two girls, born in Mumbai, had been living with their maternal grandmother in Anthwalgaon, a village in Tehri district around 200 km from Dehradun, since March.
“I brought the girls to Anthwalgaon due to their mother’s illness,” said Bachuli Devi, their grandmother. “On September 13, she died in Mumbai battling AIDS and within a month her husband too died because of the disease.”
The girls’ father was a junior employee in a private company, and the mother a homemaker.
Soon, villagers and relatives, who had so far been very nice, started asking questions. Under pressure from the villagers, the grandmother took the two girls for a blood test at a private hospital in Narendra Nagar on October 27. Bachuli Devi said a doctor told her that both Suman and Surya were HIV positive. They did not return home that evening. The girls were taken to the abandoned house, which belonged to the family, and told that they would have to live there.
For the past 10 days, the girls have been living there, with no one to complain to — or even talk to. Their grandmother visits them, but only to pass some rotis for dinner and with the morning tea. “Villagers who used to treat us nicely now don’t allow us to even go near their homes,” said Surya, the younger sister. But the two girls, who pass the evenings in dark because someone cut the power line a few days ago, haven’t stopped dreaming. They told HT they wanted to become doctors or teachers.
The girls have been fortunate to get some support though. Despite resistance from villagers, the principal of the local government school, Ramesh Chandra Unniyal, has made sure that Suman and Surya — the school’s “brightest students” — continue with their classes.
“In the past 10 days, several villagers have demanded that the girls should be stopped from coming to school,” said Unniyal. “Some parents even threatened that they won’t send their children to school if they attend classes.” He has tried explaining to the villagers that HIV doesn’t spread by mere contact.
When told about the sisters, Tehri DM Soujanya said that the matter would be probed. “I had no information about the sisters… I have now asked the SDM to conduct an inquiry and ensure that the girls are not harassed by the villagers,” she said.
Organisations working with AIDS patients blamed lack of awareness for the girls' plight. “There is still lot of myths associated with AIDS,” said Kamal Bahuguna of Hifeed, a Dehradun-based NGO. “The government should ensure that family members of the girls and other villagers are told in detail about the disease.”