By Amit Mohite
My positive status is just a part of my identity – I am much more than that.
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. It was only until 2002, when it was decided that 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 because no school or hostel would admit a child with HIV. 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 so much hostility there that it became impossible to attend. We were abused, spat on, our bags were trashed, and our books were torn by the village children who were encouraged by their parents. Eventually Manavya started an in-house school but my education came from weekend tuition 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 my studies more seriously. I was the first student from Manavya to clear the 12th standard board exams but despite good scores, I struggled to find a college that would accept me.
I worked at odd jobs as a gardener, watchman, computer teacher and in pest control to fund my education and that of my sister’s. My efforts were rewarded in 2015 when I became the first student from Manavya to graduate. In 2014, I started MyRaddi.com, an online portal to collect old newspapers that would help destitute women make paper bags to earn a living. I joined an NGO working with AIDS affected people, as a group coordinator of the YPLHIV group. Through this work, I created a district level support group to provide a safe environment for adolescents living with HIV.
I have recently completed my Master’s in Development Studies at Azim Premji University in Bangalore. I engage with the HIV positive community through various NGOs as youth advocate. I travel abroad frequently as a youth advocate 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.This story is for all the children, adolescents, men and women who have been diagnosed with HIV to tell them they can live a normal life and that it is our responsibility to make life happier and safe for future generations.