Talking to TOI, Priyam’s neighbour said that his father was a sanitary worker who died in his mid-thirties almost a decade back. His wife followed him and the duo left Tara, 7, and Pratik, 4, as orphans around nine years back. “It was a difficult time for the kids as both were identified as HIV patients. They had contracted the condition from their parents, who were HIV patients. Among their close relatives, the kids had an aunt living in Amraiwadi who did not wish to take them. She used to send ration to the kids and they cooked their own meals,” says a neighbour.
They were attending a school in Sabarmati for free. While the school authorities did not oppose their HIV tag, when the word spread, other kids started maintaining a distance and soon after, they stopped attending school.
A number of organizations initially extended a helping hand but the siblings soon realized that they were essentially all alone in this world. Purnima Gupta, assistant director, Childline, told TOI that the organization came to know about the kids a year back when they had already become world-weary. “Pratik was sent to a hostel for HIV kids at Gandhinagar a year back but he could not settle there and returned home. The teen saw his sister die in May this year and is aware of his eventuality. His defiance might have stemmed from this fact. He keeps fleeing from home whenever somebody approaches him,” she says.
Situation for other kids suffering from HIV is not very different in the state. Gujarat has two hostels for the patients – in Gandhinagar for boys and in Amboli near Surat for girls. Both the facilities have around 35 inmates at any given time.
“I will not blame the kid for the weariness. It is always a dilemma for the patient whether or not to reveal. As an AIDS patient, having five family members including a daughter suffering from the same, I have seen the almost untouchable status of the patients in the society. A doctor who used to treat my daughter refused to touch her once she got to know that she had AIDS. Same is the case with such students in schools. No less than 200 kids are currently studying in various city schools while hiding their HIV status,” says Jennifer, who works with an NGO to spread awareness about HIV.
(Names of all patients have been changed to protect their identities)