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'Struggle against society more painful than AIDS'

AIDS patient Ujwala Deshmukh shared her experience on the sidelines of the World Social Forum in Mumbai on Friday.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2004 20:34 IST

Ujwala Deshmukh, who has battled AIDS for the past eight years, switched from being a housewife to a counselor after her diagnosis and her husband's death from the disease turned her into a social outcast.

Caring alone for a seven-year-old HIV-positive son in Mumbai, Deshmukh, 35, wants governments to stress ways to support women like her as they plot against the AIDS epidemic.

Deshmukh was six months pregnant when she tested positive for HIV and says she was abandoned by both the state and relatives.

"My husband, who was working as a mechanical engineer in a reputed firm, died of AIDS, and I was left to fend for myself with my son who also tested positive," said Deshmukh, clad in a white sari, traditionally worn by Hindu widows.

She said she had not been given any guidance from doctors at the state-run clinics when she was diagnosed with HIV, and then she gave birth.

"They had no knowledge about the disease and were completely ignorant. Now when I take my kid to the hospital they discriminate against him," she said.

Immediately after her husband's death, his family told her to leave the family home. In India's joint family system most couples stay with the groom's parents after marriage.

"I was left on the lurch with money and a kid to take care of. I approached the company where my husband worked and they refused even to deal with me. They didn't pay me his dues because he was an AIDS patient and so was I," Deshmukh said.

"It pains more than the disease itself when your near and dear ones desert you and people treat you like an untouchable," she said.

"The family, the society and hospital authorities -- all of them want to keep you at a distance."

Deshmukh decided to try to improve the plight of people like herself by starting a counseling center for HIV-positive women in Mumbai, a metropolis of 18 million where half the population lives in poverty.

The center also sells handicrafts and apparel made by female AIDS sufferers to provide them with an income with which to take care of their families.

Deshmukh shared her experience on the sidelines of the World Social Forum, the annual convention of anti-globalisation forces being held in Mumbai from Friday until next Wednesday.

First Published: Jan 16, 2004 20:34 IST