A positive life
Radha’s illness caused her to be ostracised by the villagers. But her courage and pluck keeps her strong in the fight to retain what is hers.
No one wanted radha’s story to be told. But when we did hear it, the truth was shocking.
Lack of understanding: Making life more difficult.
Sometime ago, I had gone to the hills with my mother who was doing a project on HIV-AIDS. She had planned an interview with Radha (name changed), a middle-aged woman who was stigmatised for being HIV positive. The place I visited was extremely poor and backward. There was none of the comforts of modern day developing India. Farming is the major occupation and literacy levels are low.
When Radha got married, she found that her husband was always ill. It was an arranged and arguably a forced marriage. The man’s health didn’t improve after marriage. Radha thus became the main bread winner. Years passed. They had a daughter. The local dispensaries continued to give symptomatic treatment.
After a while, his illness became so severe that they had to come down to the plains for treatment. It was here that he was found to be HIV positive. As a next-in-line measure, Radha’s blood was tested and found to be infected with the retrovirus too. The child, however, tested negative.
When they returned, instead of staying in the village, where they knew they would be hated, they stayed at the husband’s sister’s house. The sister was hostile and the treatment they got was indifferent. Very soon, her husband’s condition deteriorated. A priest serving at a nearby missionary centre came to know of it and sent them to Lucknow where they could get proper treatment. Her husband lived for 11 more months. The ignorance about timely treatment cost him his life. Photographs of their stay in Lucknow prove it was the happiest time of their lives.
Radha and her daughter came back to the village where they owned a house. They were totally neglected and hated by the neighbourhood. No one talked to them or gave them any help. The society was entirely oblivious to their existence. Radha toiled in her fields and slept at home — she was determined to live on and make her daughter’s life happier than her own. Also, she didn’t want her husband’s family to get the property as long as she lived.
We had the address of her husband’s sister’s house. Once there, we were informed that Radha, whose house was farther up on the hill, had sprained her ankle and would not be able to come down to meet us. (But we later found that her leg was fine and this story was just to stop us from meeting her and hearing her story). We were told a concocted story — one I am sure must have been used to convince many others. However, having come this far, my mother was determined to talk to Radha in person.
We walked up the mountain and came to the village where Radha lived. The village Mukhiya and the village ‘wise men’ began evading the topic and started discussing politics and water harvesting instead. They also began telling us about their contacts in Delhi. No one wanted Radha’s story to be told.
But our persistence paid off. Several shocking details were uncovered during this meeting with her; including the fact that her husband’s sister had insured her brother’s life and according to the policy she would be getting the insurance money.
Also, Radha was fairly certain that she had known of her brother’s condition prior to marriage and yet let the marriage take place. The sister had effectively used her brother’s illness for her own personal gain, Radha’s life being inconsequential.
Awareness and sensitisation
Now that Radha’s condition has been made known, UNICEF supplies free medicine. Women sarpanches have been sensitising the people by creating awareness through the screening of documentaries.
Radha continues to live there — a figure of resilience, an icon of strength, living in her house, working in her farm and taking care of her daughter. She is alone, though a few people have now accepted her and also talk to her. But her aim is, to guard her house for her daughter.
However, the older men in the village feel that she and other ‘such’ women should not be allowed to stay in the village. Some have learned to accept her, though most will never learn to co-exist. Despite the circumstances, her strength and hope for the future are unbelievable and inspiring.
The writer is doing an undergraduate course at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi
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