AIDS widow forced to light pyre
A woman was forced to break tradition and cremate her husband after relatives and neighbours refused to help out for fear of contracting AIDS from the dead man.
Dambur Sethi, 43, of Kalyanapur village in Orissa’s Cuttack district, some 100 km from Bhubaneswar, contracted AIDS two years ago while working as a plumber in Mumbai.
He died on Monday, leaving behind wife Surita and a 12-year-old daughter, Suriya. The names of the widow and the daughter have been changed.
After the death of Dambur, Surita urged relatives and neighbours to carry the body to the nearby cremation ground. But most refused to touch the body. “I was forced to cremate the dead body near our house with the help of some local educated people,” Surita said. Touching or carrying an AIDS patient does not lead to an infection.
According to Hindu custom, women do not go to cremation grounds; a male heir or a close male relative performs the last rites. “My daughter and I are now facing ostracism from the villagers,” Surita added.
“We have decided to extend all the help possible to the family members of the AIDS victim. We will first provide free rice and other items for two weeks to them,” said Jitendra Satapathy, the sarpanch of the village.
According to a government survey conducted in January, the state has 8,502 HIV-affected people.
The number of AIDS patients is 916 of which the government is giving drugs to 800 people in its special health care centres — the Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) centres.Most of the patients are poor.
"Despite initiatives by the government and efforts by non-government organisations, many victims and their family members are facing ostracism in several parts of the state," a social activist said.