Families of HIV Patients Ostracised

Eleven years ago, doctors told Kailash Bhagat that he was infected with the HIV virus. He was working as a cook in Bangkok.

When he returned to his native village of Sitamarhi in India’s eastern Bihar state and told his family and friends about his condition, they immediately shunned and abandoned him.



Rejected, the thirty something Kailash tried to take his life twice in 2000 by overdosing on sleeping pills. He recovered and joined an organisation networking people suffering from HIV/Aids.

Life, clearly, did not change much for Kailash – abandoned and ostracised, he took his life in April, in what was his third attempt at suicide.

Kailash’s case is not an isolated one for people affected by HIV/Aids in one of India’s poorest and backward states.

Hellish life

Consider these examples:


  • In June, Pramila Devi, 40, jumped into a village well in Rohtas district, after her husband Sunil, died of Aids. Her family had been ostracised because of Sunil’s disease.


    Bisheshwar Paswan
    The villagers do not come to our house, and they don’t invite us to village functions

    Bisheshwar Paswan


  • When Surendra Singh, 50, of Darbhanga district’s Khaira village died of Aids in March last year, his wife, Asha Devi, dragged his body to her backyard and cremated her husband. Nobody, including the village priest, wanted to touch the body.


  • Rampati Devi of Chaima village in Saran district led a hellish life in isolation, shut inside a room after she was diagnosed with the infection after her husband, a mechanic, died of Aids. Family members and neighbours feared that her breathing in public would infect others. Rampati died in July 2005, leaving her five-year-old infected daughter.



  • When Ramesh Kumar of Dudahi village in Madhubani district died of Aids last year, his family simply abandoned the body. Ramesh was living on the fringes of the village after he was diagnosed with the infection. Finally, some neighbours buried his body in the backyard instead of cremating him.


    ‘Highly vulnerable’

    These days the family of Bisheshwar Paswan of Jagannathpur village in Gaya district is going through similar trauma.

    Bisheshwar’s two sons, Mahendra and Ramashish, and eldest daughter-in-law Sahadevi have already died of Aids. Both men worked as truck drivers.


    Wife and Mother of  Rabinder Paswan

    Low literacy levels lead to Aids victims being ostracised

    Bisheshwar says that Sunita, his younger daughter-in-law, had fled to her parent’s home to remarry.

    Now his third son, Rabinder, who was working in a factory in northern Haryana state, has also been diagnosed with the infection, and spends his time at home.

    The fourth son, Ranjit, who works in a metal factory in the capital, Delhi, has stopped visiting his village home, and the villagers shun the family.

    “The villagers do not come to our house, and they don’t invite us to village functions. What can I do?” rues Bisheshwar.

    There is so much fear of the disease in the village that his neighbours Buddhan and Butali Paswan say that every time someone falls ill in the village, there are fresh fears of the infection.

    “Aids is dangerous and it kills. Anyone can get infected. So it is better to avoid people having the disease,” says Buddhan Paswan.

    India’s National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) has described Bihar as a “highly vulnerable state”.

    There are 1,500 cases of Aids in the state, while another 15,000 people are infected with the virus, according to the Bihar State Aids Control Society. The first case of infection was reported in 1992.

    But experts say this figure cloaks a much bigger number because of the appalling state of the public health system and the consequent underreporting of the disease because of inadequate detection facilities.

    “Unofficially, not less than 100,000 people are infected with the HIV virus in Bihar,” says Dr Diwakar Tejaswi, a leading physician who works with Aids patients.

    The rise of HIV infection in Bihar is attributed to a large number of workers who migrate from the state in search of work – about 4 to 5 million, according to an estimate- and get infected after having unprotected sex with sex workers.

    Dr Tejaswi says he gets one or two new cases of people infected with the virus at his clinic every day.

    He says that people suffering from the disease face ostracism in Bihar because of widespread “lack of awareness, misunderstanding and illiteracy”.


    New figures show that the number of people living with HIV/Aids in India is between 2-3.1 million people.


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