Revathi Chittle (30, name changed) was forced to stop working at an anganwadi and her six year old daughter, Anjali, was not allowed to go to school.
Residents of Longhe village in Kolhapur district also banned their children from playing with Anjali, saying she “would bite and infect them”.
The 900 odd residents of Longhe had unanimously boycotted the family because Chittle and Anjali were diagnosed with HIV. The discrimination forced Chittle to flee the village and move to Navi Mumbai on July 16. She is working as a domestic help and struggling to feed her children.
What makes Chittle’s case more shocking is the fact that the residents of Longhe village are not unlettered or ignorant. Most are Class 12 pass or graduates and prosperous just like other residents of Kolhapur district, which falls in the state’s sugar belt. All have televisions in their homes and read newspapers, said activists.
“Revathi’s case shows that even though there are many public service advertisements and camps to raise awareness about HIV, many people have still not internalised the information. The people of Longhe are educated and have televisions.
They are aware but the behaviour change has not happened yet,” said Sanyogita Dhamadhere, from Centre for Advocacy and Research, a non-profit group that is helping Chittle in her fight for justice.
Chittle hopes the government authorities intervene so the people of Longhe accept her family again.
“I want to go back to my home, work and lead a normal life with my children,” she said. Chittle’s husband died due to HIV related complications last July. When Chittle and her children underwent tests, only her son, Ankush, tested negative.
“My father in law revealed our positive status to the neighbours. Everything changed overnight,” said Chittle.
“After working as an anganwadi helper for eight years people used to respect me and invited me home for tea. Now, they would just walk away when they saw me.”
As the news spread, villagers started pressurising Chittle to resign from her job. After resisting for months, she stopped going to work on January 26.
Chittle’s daughter was not allowed to go to school. “The school authorities were ready to admit Anjali but the villagers threatened to pull their children out from the school,” she said.
Moved by Chittle’s plight, various non governmental organisations organised a HIV awareness camp in Longhe in April but it failed to change the mindset.
“The Zilla Parishad officials and local doctor also tried to allay people’s fears but did not succeed,” said Dhamadhere.