This is a story of a person living with HIV right from birth, and how he shaped his life. It is an example of what happens when you take charge of life and write your own destiny.
I was seven when my parents died in a car accident. I lost everything that night – not only my parents but also my school, my friends, my house and everything that constituted my little world.
My sister and I were shunted amongst our relatives till 2003, when it was decided I should be admitted to a hostel. As part of the routine admission procedure, I had to undergo an HIV test. I tested positive – and entered a new world, a world of stigma and discrimination, bewildering to a child of my age.
The hostel denied me admission, and this pattern was repeated over and over again. My excellent academic record meant nothing. No school or hostel would admit a child with AIDS. By some good fortune, my uncle came to know about Manavya in Pune, which was the only orphanage in India at that time for HIV positive children. At first, along with the other orphanage children I was sent to the village school, but we faced such hostility there that it became impossible to attend classes. We were abused, spat on, our bags were trashed and our books were torn by the village children, egged on by their parents.
Eventually, Manavya started an in-house school, but my learning came from weekend tuitions in math and science by volunteers from Pune. When I was 14, I won a prize in a science exhibition at the prestigious Inter-University Center for Astronomy (IUCAA) which inspired me to take up my studies even more seriously. I was the first student from Manavya to clear the 12th standard board exams but despite good scores, I had to struggle to find a college that would accept me.
I worked at odd jobs as a gardener, a watchman, computer teacher, in pest control and as a house help to earn enough to fund my education and that of my sister’s. My efforts were rewarded, when, in 2015, I became the first student from Manavya to graduate. In 2014, I started MyRaddi.com, an online portal to collect old newspapers for destitute women who earned a living making paper bags.
I joined Prayas, an NGO working with AIDS affected people, as a group coordinator of the So What, a support group for youngsters with HIV. During my tenure, I created a district level support group to provide a safe environment for adolescents living with AIDS.
Currently, I am pursuing my Master’s in Development Studies at Azim Premji University in Bangalore. I engage with the HIV positive community through various NGOs as a youth advocate. I travel abroad frequently as a global ambassador for youngsters with AIDS and speak at conferences and public events.
I have come a long way from the child who was spat on for no fault of his own. I love challenges. I have no fear in disclosing my status anymore and I speak publicly to motivate people like me. My positive status is just a part of my identity – I am much more than that.
Life is like a rainbow and I believe there are many shades to it like happiness, sadness, enjoyment. Similarly, HIV is one of the shades of my life and I accept it and I live with it!This story is for all those children, adolescents, men and women who have been diagnosed with HIV – I’d like to tell them that life can be normal and it is our responsibility to make it happier and safer for future generations.
You can listen to me on RED FM here