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Punjab's Forgotten Women: A lonely war against AIDS

Feb 22, 2009 01:38 PM IST India India

Chandigarh: Truck drivers from Punjab fall into the most high-risk category of HIV/AIDs victims. But what about the women and children they leave behind? Faced with the worst kind of social stigma and lack of financial help, these fatherless families often sink into oblivion. "I didn’t even know what HIV was or how it is contracted. I never thought my family would be a victim. I am not very educated. I have grown up in a village,” a truck driver’s wife Pooja Thakur said. At 27, Pooja's face reflects almost nothing of the struggle she has endured. She lost her husband when she was just 21 years old to a disease she knew nothing about. But it was not long before Pooja discovered that she was HIV positive as well, and two of her three children were carrying the virus too. "After my husband died, his parents blamed me. They said if people die of HIV, why are you still alive? Why are your children alive? Then my in-laws threw me out,” Pooja said. Pooja saw her life crumble into dust – she was homeless, poor, practically illiterate and thrown out onto the streets with three children to fend for. Without support or money for the first time in her life, Pooja took the giant leap of going to the Chandigarh State Aids Control Society, telling them of her plight, and begging for a job. It was just the lifeline that she needed. She is now the head of the Chandigarh network of people living with HIV Aids and uses her story to spread awareness. But her children remain her focus and her source of strength. "My middle son has started undergoing treatment. He himself asks for medicines even though they don’t know the disease they have,” Pooja said. “I hope if there is ever any cure for HIV it should be for my children first. They are so young, they have not seen anything yet,” she added.