Chandigarh’s award winning AIDS patient inspires others

By Alkesh Sharma, IANS,

Chandigarh : She may be suffering from AIDS, but that has not stopped 28-year-old Pooja Thakur from working for the welfare of other HIV positive patients here — a courage and commitment recognised by the government that honoured her with a state award during the Republic Day celebrations.

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Now, she has become an inspiration for the residents of Chandigarh.

Thakur has been working relentlessly for the past four years for the rights of HIV/AIDS affected people. She has been assisting them in their hospital treatment and other daily requirements. She also looks after the well-being of their families.

She had joined Chandigarh Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS as a field worker in 2005, after the death of her husband. But the vocation that she had joined to only earn her daily living has now become an integral part of her life.

“Our NGO has a membership of 700 people and 400 of them are from Chandigarh alone. Besides Chandigarh, I am heading the activities of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh and we are reaching out to over 1,000 AIDS patients at the moment,” Thakur told IANS here Wednesday.

“Many a time we face problems in Chandigarh but the situation is worse in Punjab and Haryana. AIDS patents are not treated well in hospitals and people maintain a distance after knowing our status. That is why most AIDS patients feel humiliated and are afraid of coming out,” she said.

The fear was clear on Thakur’s face when she requested that her sons not be identified.

“Please do not give the names of my sons as it might lead to their expulsion from school,” she pleaded.

Thakur was born in a poor family of Dharampur town in Himachal Pradesh and is a school dropout. She was married to a truck driver in 1997.

She discovered that she was HIV positive after she gave birth to her third son in 2005. Her two younger sons are also HIV positive.

“We were four sisters. We were not financially well off so I was married off when I was just 15-and-a-half years old in 1997. I accepted it but my life was totally shattered when I came to know that I have got AIDS virus from my husband.”

After her husband died of AIDS, she was thrown out of home.

“Though I had no fault in getting this deadly virus but my in-laws threw me and my children out of the house. Even my parents and sisters are not bothered about us.

“I am fighting for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients but the sad part of the story is that my own life is full of discriminations and sufferings. I am living here in a rented accommodation and I have to change it after regular intervals.

“Whenever my landlords come to know about my disease they make up some false stories and force me and my children to leave the house. Moreover children of the locality also stop playing with my kids once our reality is revealed,” she said.

Thakur said she never dreamt of working in an office but had to after her husband died in 2005.

“I did not join this NGO with any aim. I needed money to take care of my children and they were giving me Rs.3,000 per month at that time, which was the only motivation for me. But gradually things changed when I saw the actual plight of AIDS patients and the discrimination that they had to face at every juncture of life.”

“Now my only aim is to work for the AIDS patients. This is the only thing that is giving me energy and willpower to live.”