Being HIV Positive in Rural India

Personal accounts of women with HIV/AIDS from rural India and how they are conquering their life every day.

Women from rural India gather enough courage and come together to speak about their HIV positive status, how they got it and how they have been living an inspiring life in spite of many challenges. Hear and watch their heart touching stories in their own words.

Jamna Bhavsar’s Fight for Acceptance

Jamna Dilip Bhavsar, a 36-year-old lady from Ahmedabad found out her HIV+ status nine years ago. Jamna’s husband was HIV+, the status he and his family had kept hidden from her.

Unaware of the fact that her husband was HIV+,  Jamna caught it too. She found out her status only when a doctor called her to the clinic along with her husband.

“When the doctor called me to the clinic, I wondered what kind of disease does my husband has that I need to be called too?” she said.

Her husband died a year after that.  Jamna’s condition started worsening too. She became weak, her immune system became vulnerable and started feeling sick. She got some medicines, but it didn’t work for her. In fact, it further deteriorated her condition. Jamna lost a lot of weight, her eyesight became frail and she could barely stand.

“I was almost on a deathbed. I went to a different doctor and got admitted to the hospital. I spent three months on the bed and picked up my life again,” she said.

Jamna had mentally defeated HIV, but she had bigger battles to fight. Once, her family found out about Jamna’s HIV status, their behaviour changed towards her. Her parents supported her and loved her unconditionally, but her brother and her sister-in-law started discriminating against her.

Jamna breaks into an inconsolable cry as she remembers her brother and how he had changed.

“They think that they will catch this disease from me. They stopped eating with me and didn’t let me even touch the water of the house. They stopped me from touching their daughter,” Jamna said with tears in her eyes.

Her pain could be felt through her words and her eyes. “I have decided, I will never eat their food. I will never drink their water. I am so hurt. The outsiders are not mistreating me, but the family I was born and brought up in is behaving like this with me. This breaks my heart,” Jamna added.

Jamna gathered her life again and took a job in a garment factory. She single-handedly manages her house and supports her children’s education. Her health has been stable for many months now.

“I clearly tell everyone that I am HIV+, if you have any problem with me then you are free to not come near me. But the attitude of people has changed now. They don’t discriminate. There is a better awareness now,” Jamna said.

Bharti’s New Life

Bhartiben Ratilal Solanki, a beautiful lady in her thirties, recalls her life when her husband was alive. When Bharti found out about her husband’s HIV status, it was already too late. When she got tested, she was HIV positive too. Her husband’s health was also worsening each day.

“It was Saturday evening, he was bed ridden in a hospital. He told me to be strong and to learn to fight this battle alone since he won’t be there with me forever. We spent hours talking to each other that night and next morning he left the world. I clearly remember my last conversation with him. He taught me everything I needed to know to survive with HIV but left me alone in this world,” Bharti said.

Bhartiben has come a long way from being vulnerable and spending sleepless nights to being an active mother and a role model for other positive women.

She single-handedly manages her household expenses and supports her children’s education. Having witnessed the difficult behaviour from her own family to making a place of her own in the community, Bhartiben is living a new life now. And she gives credit of her transformation to the GSNP who helped her become a confident individual.

“I would have committed suicide, but I found a new way. I changed my mindset and received much-needed help on time,” she said.

Lata Srivastava’s inspiring journey

“My husband left me when he found out I was HIV positive. Since then I have been living my life alone with my son,” said Lata Srivastava, another HIV positive woman from Gujarat.

The 45-year-old lady has been suffering from several other diseases, but nothing has deterred her from living an active life. Her teenage son, who is also HIV positive, is her biggest strength.

From being thrown out of her husband’s house in UP to creating a new world for herself and her son, Lata has shown immense courage. Every day has been a struggle for her. Today, she is a successful entrepreneur. She runs a small general store and takes care of her small family of two.

Lata Srivasatava

The Bigger Picture

Acceptance and stigma attached to HIV and AIDS is not the only challenge. Those living with the disease in rural areas face bigger challenges of continuing right medication and healthy eating habits. Lack of money stops them from consuming enough food, which is a must to support the heavy medication.

In addition, many women with HIV are not aware how they caught the disease. Majority of them claims to have received it during delivery. Many caught it due to the carelessness of the rural healthcare centres.

“There is a need to conduct a proper audit and inspection in rural hospitals to check that the medical staff is using the injections and conducting other treatments carefully and hygienically,” said Pinkyben from GSNP+.

What is GSNP Plus?

Gujarat state network of people living with HIV/AIDS (GSNP+) is a community based non-profit making organization formed, by & for people living with HIV/AIDS.

GSNP+ came into existence on 6th February 2003 when 7 people living with HIV came together and formed a trust.

Through its various initiatives and programmes, GSNP+ has been able to bring tremendous positive impact in the lives of women living with HIV and AIDS in rural Gujarat.

GSNP+ has been providing early linkages to care support & treatment services, improving treatment adherence, spreading awareness and reducing stigma and discrimination around HIV.

The organization has also started a marriage bureau exclusively for HIV positive people. Any “positive” person looking for a companion can register here. Know more about GSNP+’s work here.

If you want to support people with HIV, you can do so by spreading more awareness about it and helping organisations like GSNP Plus to sponsor medicines, food and other necessities for positive people.

Photos, videos and podcasts: Shreya Pareek

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About the author

Shreya Pareek