College sacks four hostel staff for testing positive for HIV

CHENNAI: In these days of recession, pink slips are not uncommon. But a well-known college in Tamil Nadu’s a southern district of Dindigul, sacked four of its hostel staff — cooks and kitchen assistants — because they tested HIV positive.

The incident which smacks of discrimination has snatched four staff members, including a woman, of their livelihood. They are now either working as daily wage coolies in fields and on construction sites or desperately searching for jobs.

Jaya Menon, for Times Of India

About a month ago, the management of the P S N A college of engineering and technology in Muthanampatty insisted on putting the hostel staff through a general medical check which also included a HIV test. Four of them tested positive, including a woman. All four were given the sacking orders on January 13, a day before the Pongal festival. They had been drawing monthly salaries of about Rs. 3,000.

S Ramakrishnan, the college’s special officer, admitted he had given the four staff members the sacking orders. "We have sacked them. They are cooking for 2,000 hostel students. We cannot take the risk of having HIV positive cooks working in the college mess," he told The Times of India. When it was pointed out to him that HIV did not spread through food, Ramakrishnan quipped: "I can’t fool around with the health of so many students."

A Rajrathinam, an HIV activist in Dindigul, pointed out that it was a pathetic case of poor people being helpless about fighting back. "It also shows the ignorance of educated people and the stigma that is still attached to the disease," he said.

Dr. G Rohini, the medical officer in-charge of the ART centre in the Dindigul government hospital, said she had the medical records of three of the four staff members. "All three have tested positive for HIV."

Meanwhile, 38-year-old Muthammal (name changed), a widow hailing from Chengurichi hamlet, near Dindigul, among the four sacked staff members, is a dejected woman. "I don’t know where to go for a job," she said. Her husband died of HIV a few years ago. She is now dependant on her old parents, daily wage earners in tamarind units.

Well-known lawyer, Anand Grover, who has argued several cases in favour of sacked HIV positive persons, said the act of the college was "totally illegal." In several landmark judgments, the Mumbai and Delhi high courts have ruled that a person living with HIV could not be denied opportunity of employment merely on ground of his HIV+ status, he said.

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