Surender Kaur was only 20 when she contracted HIV from her husband in 1995. Surender was diagnosed with HIV at the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, (PGIMER), Chandigarh. At that time doctors gave her less than six months to live. Not only did she fought her disease in the next two decades to live a normal life, but she has also been helping those diagnosed with the HIV virus get their lives back on track.
The real struggle for Surender started when her husband passed away. Her in-laws threw her out of her home. She was married off to a truck driver in Haryana’s Karnal district at a very young age and she couldn’t possibly have foreseen the struggles that lay ahead of her within two years of her marriage. Her only support after her in-laws kicked her out of the home were her parents.
As no affordable treatment was available at that time, Surender spent the next ten years without any medication and often being ridiculed by the people of her village.
As no affordable treatment was available till 2006, sometimes villagers would kill their HIV positive daughters. There were many horrific nights where I contemplated ending my life in a similar manner. But somehow, I survived.
After struggling for more than a decade, Surender contacted the Network for HIV Positive People, a Gurugram-based social organization.
I was counseled by a man named Jagbir Singh. He told me about free HIV medication offered by HACS. Not only was I given treatment (after reaching Gurugram), I was also given a job through which I could help others.
Surender started working with the organization as a social activist counseling HIV patients and this helped in building up her confidence. In 2010, Surender joined VIHAAN, an NGO working to rehabilitate those infected with HIV and later moved to another NGO Saathi.
For her tireless efforts, in 2017 Surender was awarded an appreciation certificate from Veena Singh, project director of Haryana AIDS Control Society.
Surender is now working as a field coordinator for NGO Saathi. The NGO has been helping those affected by HIV/AIDS. Surender checks out the personal details of patients of both government and private hospitals and then reach out to them — at their homes or over the phone — to help them come to terms with their disease and help them obtain medication made available by the Haryana AIDS Control Society (HACS).
Through counseling, I’ve helped thousands of people. People call from all over the country and even around the world. Often, they’re surprised to find that HIV patients can live for years and lead normal lives.
Surender said most HIV patients — whether they belong to urban or rural areas — have one thing common: they have to battle the stigma associated with HIV.
Though the treatment at government and private hospitals is confidential, patients often face discrimination at the hands of their friends and families.
Patients are often given separate utensils in which to eat. They are barred from using toilets. Worse, they aren’t even allowed to sleep near their relatives. Most of the patients are women, Surender said. They face these insults on a daily basis, she added.
There are separate rules for men and women. While women are mocked and berated, the men retain their status as long as they remain breadwinners.
Surender said she’s also faced discrimination while renting flats.
The first time I rented an apartment, I didn’t tell the landlord I was HIV positive. Not at first, anyway. However, when I later disclosed my status, I was asked to vacate. Of course, I was never given a reason.
I haven’t revealed that I am HIV positive to my current landlord. I find that as soon as I tell someone, they begin distancing themselves. It’s a lesson learned the hard way.