AIDS patients want equality

Over 2.3 million infected people in country lack social acceptance

Usha Desai, a sex worker in Maharashtra’s Parbani district, has been successful in fighting AIDS, but it is the struggle against social exclusion and stigma related to the disease that has cost her more.

The 40-year-old, like over 2.3 million HIV/AIDS patients in India, feels that the real war against the disease will be won only when they will be accepted in the society.

So now, she along with many other sex workers suffering from HIV/AIDS in the district under SETU, a community based organisation of sex workers and tamasha (drama) artistes, have been at the core of a small revolution that has ultimately transformed the lives of many like them.

“We want to send our children to schools, but we are unable to produce documents like residence proof, father’s name, and ration card asked by school authorities. When we tell them our profession and status, we are further discriminated,” Desai said.

“But we are determined to fight for our and our children’s right,” Desai said.
Shubha Gaikwad, a member of the organisation, said learning about safe sex practices was not enough and through the organisation they got to know about their rights.

“We were associated with the HIV programme since the year 2000; it enabled us to learn about safe sex, sexually transmitted infection and management of HIV. Slowly we realised that talking about health alone is not enough,” Gaikwad, a tamasha artist, said.

Security concerns

“Besides safe health, the women were confronted with larger issues such as those of security and social recognition. It is then that we decided we need to work towards claiming our space as women and as citizens of this land,” she said.

 Through the organisation, they have been able to take up the issue of social entitlements, including vote id card, pension benefits, with the local authorities.

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