A woman's over-the-top zeal to fight AIDS
Ragini Devi, a Bihar villager, was once selected as an "Asadharan Mahila", or extraordinary woman, for helping empower women. Rightly so, since she seems to have a fire in her belly as she takes on the task of spreading awareness about AIDS.
Hailing from Balthi Rasoolpur village in Muzaffarpur district, about 70 km from Patna, she was chosen for the honour in 2006 for her pathbreaking move to take up vegetable cultivation and inspire hundreds of women to take it up as a means of livelihood.
The New Delhi-based Grassroots magazine called Ragini, who comes from a social and economically marginalized background, "India's first Asadharan Mahila".
She also hit the headlines two years ago when she inaugurated an international woman's conference along with the then Indian president APJ
Abdul Kalam in New Delhi. It was a rare opportunity for a woman from her background.
But not ready to sit on past laurels, she has begun a sustained effort to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS in the rural hinterland of Bihar. Being a counsellor, Devi is busy spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS in villages.
"I am doing it as voluntary work to make a difference" she said.
"Till date the response is more than expected. People, mostly village women, show keen interest in learning about AIDS and its prevention measures. But the fact remains that there are deep-rooted myths and stigma attached to the disease," she said.
According to official statistics, 12,000 people among Bihar's over 83 million population are infected with the virus, but AIDS campaigners claim these figures are under-reported. Unofficial figures put the HIV/AIDS population of Bihar at 40,000. They are among India's 2.5 million people who suffer from the disease.
Ragini Devi recalled that initially women were reluctant to discuss and talk about HIV/AIDS due to widespread misinformation related to the disease.
"It took a few days to convince and motivate them to gather in front of my thatched house to join the campaign against HIV/AIDS," she said.
She admitted that it was not an easy task. "I began my campaign against HIV/AIDS last year with the help of hand-written placards and short lectures in the local Hindi dialect," Ragini Devi said.
She decided to create awareness about prevention measures to minimize the chance of HIV/AIDS and to fight against misconception.
Ragini Devi's initiative to campaign against HIV/AIDS is seen here as a right step in rural Bihar.
Health officials associated with the Bihar State AIDS Control Society said that in rural Bihar, migrant workers are considered the main carrier of HIV/AIDS virus because they got infected during their stay outside to earn a livelihood.
During her previous effort for women's empowerment through vegetable cultivation, she had inspired dozens to earn their livelihood through her initiative.
Ragini Devi's move to take up vegetable cultivation made her a household name in Bochhan block.
"Thanks to her, vegetables which were cultivated on a small scale a few years ago, are now sent to different places across India and exported too," villagers said.