A HIV-positive widow, who had been forced to flee her village near Kolhapur due to discrimination, has been welcomed back by the villagers after the state AIDS control authorities and activists intervened.
The residents of Longhe village have promised to give Revathi Chitale (name changed, 30) her job back and get her daughter enrolled in the local school. “I am glad to be back home,” said Chitale, who had been staying with a relative in Navi Mumbai for the past month.
Chitale and her daughter Anjali (6) tested positive for HIV soon after her husband succumbed to HIV-related complications last July. As the news spread, villagers started pressurising Chitale , who was an anganwadi helper, to resign from her job and threatened to pull their children out of school if Anjali was granted admission.
They banned their children from playing with Anjali, saying she “would bite and infect them”, and did not spare her brother Ankush (12), who is not positive, either.
The social boycott had made life so difficult that Chitale moved to Navi Mumbai and started working as a domestic help to feed her children.
The Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) ordered the tehsildar, Vijaya Jadhav, to reason with the villagers and address their concerns about HIV transmission.
On Friday, Jadhav organised a meeting with district authorities, non-governmental organisations and Longhe residents and invited Dr Sanjeevani Kulkarni from Prayas NGO in Pune to dispel myths regarding HIV transmission.
“The villagers were convinced. They offered to look after Chitale and her children and give them the respect that is due,” said Sanyogita Dhamadhere, from Centre for Advocacy and Research, a non-profit group that is helping Chitale.
A village-level committee was also formed to provide continuous support to Chitale.
“We were a afraid that our children could get infected if Anjali would play with them, but now we know that there is no such chance,” said deputy sarpanch Subhash Patil.
Dr Ramesh Deokar from MSACS said only time would tell whether Chitale is allowed to lead a perfectly normal life in her village. “We will continue our efforts to try to change the mindset at large,” he said.