Working With Us | Products | Case Studies | FAQ | About Online Media

The Little Children Suffer


In the mid-1980′s when AIDS was firmly established as a “gay” disease in the minds of most Americans, a boy named Ryan White and his campaign to attend school helped turn the fight against the spread of the disease into a cause that anyone could understand, helping a sick child. In India, sadly, that transition is still eluding those who are fighting the spread of HIV. In many states, in many places, it’s India’s children who are, in fact, suffering the most. Not just from infections from the virus but from social ostracization.

AIDS is still very much a stigma in India. It’s seen as a disease rampant mainly in the lower classes – truck drivers traveling from state to state -visiting sex workers and then passing it on to their wives. Though there have been many cases of people contracting the illness through re-used needles and unhygienic medical conditions, the belief is that if you’ve got AIDS it must’ve happened through unprotected sex. Unlike in the US, in India it’s not associated with homosexuality, since that’s yet another taboo and not accepted by society, hence not many people “come-out”.

But, as any reasonably well-informed person knows, AIDS can be spread through any unprotected sexual activity – regardless of the orientations of the parties involved or their social standing. According to the latest data released, there are now about 2.5 to 3 million HIV positive people in India. That came as something of a relief. Until recently, India was incorrectly believed to have the largest group of HIV-infected people in the world at a figure close to 6 million, but that number has now been revised .

That’s good news, but it’s still a big number and not enough is being done to control the spread. That makes this summer’s hubaloo over actor Shilpa Shetty’s kiss from Richard Gere all the more unfortunate. The incident for all the attention it stirred up around the world, did nothing to help the cause and was made even more ironic by Gere’s reasons for bussing Shetty so publicly: To demonstrate that kissing does not spread the disease.

The biggest sufferers of this misinformation are the babies who are often abandoned at birth, left at temples or other public places by their parents who either can’t afford them or who just don’t want an HIV infected child. Even hospitals often reject HIV positive pregnant women. Recently, the father of an HIV-postive baby had to deliver his child since the medical staff refused.

A few days ago, a little baby girl was found abandoned in an auto rickshaw (indigenous three wheel drives used to ferry people small distances) in a Delhi suburb. She was taken in by two families but was abandoned both times, as there was a fear of her being HIV positive. She’s now with a Delhi based aid agency and it turns out that she does not have the dreaded virus after all. Barely has news this become public knowledge that the agency was flooded with adoption requests. The little girl, named Kritika, may finally find a home.

But such happy endings are not the case for a lot of babies, who are deserted by their parents as well as by society. Little is known of what happens to them, as there aren’t enough orphanages that are either equipped or have the willingness to take in HIV positive children.

Schools too reject infected children as they claim that parents of the others object, so they have little choice in the matter. In the southern state of Kerala there was recently such a controversy where a school closed its doors to five children after discovering they were HIV positive. The authorities claimed that other parents showed discomfort in the matter and were even willing to take their kids out of the school if the infected five stayed. The media took up the issue, the state government intervened and the kids were eventually taken back, but the crux of the matter is that life is a constant struggle for such kids and incidents like this one are becoming increasingly common.

That society shuns HIV positive people is no surprise, not in India, or, for that matter, in most places in the world. But it’s the severity of the situation that makes this particularly horrific in India, because when little babies are found in garbage dumps, it says a lot about the society and its tolerance level. And when a baby is found abandoned, it’s automatically believed to belong to the lower or lower-middle class, because, for most Indians, it’s a still poor man’s disease. But, in many cases HIV may not be the culprit – as in the above-mentioned baby’s case, the reason was not determined – but assumptions are made. Babies in India are abandoned for many reasons – born out of wedlock, girl child, financial constraints, or HIV positive. But the first concern of the finder of such babies is checking for the AIDS virus, and there are few takers if the child turns out to be positive.

But, not all is gloomy. There are some efforts in the other direction. Anando Ghor, a home for HIV positive kids at Gobindopur, a village in the western state of Bengal, is one such refreshing story. Located about eighteen miles from the state’s capital city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) it houses about thirty HIV positive children and works – by setting an example – to dispel common myths about the infectiousness of AIDS. The home was started by an aid agency, which used a novel method to make the locals comfortable about the matter that Ryan White’s supporter might understand. First it set up a school for the children in the village, and once that was established, it set up the home.

There have been other success stories, the most famous and successful one being the Sonagachi AIDS Program – run by an organization that is managed by Kolkata’s sex workers – to spread awareness about AIDS and the use of condoms. And there’s the government run National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) that spends millions on various programs to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. The organization’s mission, as it says in bold on its website, is “an India in which every person living with HIV is treated with dignity and has access to quality care.”

It’s an ambitious goal. But judging by the recent incidents of insensitivity against infected children, it’s one that’s far far from being met.

Share  Posted by Gopika Kaul at 4:14 PM | Permalink

<< Back to the Spotlight blog

Gopika Kaul's bio
Email Gopika Kaul

Get Our Weekly Email Newsletter

What We're Reading - Spot-On Books

Hot Spots - What's Hot Around the Web | Promote Your Page Too

Spot-on Main | Pinpoint Persuasion | Spotlight Blog | RSS Subscription | Spot-on Writers | Privacy Policy | Contact Us