18 years and fighting: HIV-infected Kerala mother seeks job for her educated children

Her children were thrown out of their school but she fought back and ensured education to her children at the same school
The heart-rending tale the woman and her three minor children surfaced in 2003 when a lower primary school in Kottiyoor (Kannur district) expelled her two children after it came to know that they were also infected with the HIV (HT FILE PHOTO)
The heart-rending tale the woman and her three minor children surfaced in 2003 when a lower primary school in Kottiyoor (Kannur district) expelled her two children after it came to know that they were also infected with the HIV (HT FILE PHOTO)
Published on Jan 03, 2022 12:23 AM IST
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Thiruvananthapuram:

Stigmatised and alienated by the society for being HIV-positive, a woman and her three children in north Kerala’s Kottiyoor are fighting a valiant battle for 18 years. The mother, Rema (47), who was the face of the state government’s campaign against the dreaded disease and social stigma attached to it, now says she is tired of her fight.

She wrote a letter to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in June, asking the government to provide jobs to her educated children to keep the hearth burning, but her wait still continues. An optimist and a fighter, she is hoping against the hope.

The heart-rending tale of Rema and her three minor children surfaced in 2003 when a lower primary school in Kottiyoor (Kannur district) expelled her two children after it came to know that they were also infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

It shocked the conscience of the state and she also threatened to fast outside the school. The school was forced to bend its knees before the fighting mother. Later the state government appointed her as a “positive worker” for three years and she drew a monthly stipend of 3000 then. As a “positive worker” she tried to bust some of the myths attached to the disease.

Rema’s life turned upside down in 2002 when her husband K Shaji, who was working with a private firm in Mumbai, returned home after he was infected with AIDS. Later tests done on the mother and two children also revealed that they were infected -- the eldest daughter was negative. Her children were thrown out of their school but she fought back and ensured education to her children at the same school (HT had profiled her in 2003). Before his death, Shaji confided to his wife that he used to frequent red light areas in Mumbai.

“I somehow married off my eldest daughter last year. She holds a post-graduate degree in engineering. And remaining two, a girl and boy, also completed their graduation and are waiting for a job. There were enough promises and claims but nothing happened,” said the mother, adding that they lived all these years due to magnanimity of some good Samaritans.

”Stigma, aversion and indifferent attitude are still there. I don’t know how I lived all these years. I have to fight every inch to open a path before us. I feel exhausted. My children desperately need jobs. There were enough promises and claims but all remained in thin air,” she said, adding that she thought of suicide several times but the innocent face of her children prevented her from it.

“Even after 18 years, the attitude of the society remains same. My daughter was selected for a job last year but failed to get it because she’s HIV-positive. We don’t need sympathy but we need wherewithal to live an ordinary life,” she said, adding many film personalities and others promised help to her but all waned later.

“We were subject of ridicule and discrimination. We fought our way back. But things remained more or less same. Society still views us with stigma and aversion. What we need is acceptability and means to live an ordinary life,” she said, adding she will meet the chief minister again to help her children get jobs.

When contacted, a spokesman of the government refused to comment on the woman’s letter to the CM.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Ramesh Babu is HT’s bureau chief in Kerala, with about three decades of experience in journalism.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2022