MARRIAGE

One form of social mainstreaming which gets a lot of community acceptance in the Indian context is marriage. As the survivors become economically empowered and start moving about in the society with self confidence they meet young men of their choices and express their heartfelt desire to marry them. On conducting a transparent investigation if the boy’s credentials are found to be positive than marriage to the survivor is organized. In some cases when the survivor is HIV positive efforts are taken to fix an alliance through the positive people’s network.

Abandoned as a newborn in a train station, Fatima was taken home by an older woman. Fatima was raised not as an adored adopted daughter, but as a domestic worker in a household and began working as soon as she could walk. By the time Fatima reached adolescence she had been raped, abused and mutilated by countless male relatives. In spite of never having been allowed to go to school and unable to read, Fatima escaped her exploitative situation by sneaking onto a train headed for Hyderabad.  Three days after she had arrived, Fatima was spotted wandering around the train station by a pimp on the lookout for vulnerable children. He promised her a job and took her directly to a brothel where she was permanently paralyzed by the constant trauma she was enduring. Fatima escaped again, found her way to a government safe-house where she was referred to Prajwala. Fatima finally found a home surrounded by Prajwala staff and volunteers who healed her psychologically and physically. She was enrolled in Prajwala‘s vocational program and trained in bookbinding and screen printing. Then Fatima found out she had tested positive for HIV. Prajwala provided her with nutritious food, immune system-strengthening traditional herbs and antiretroviral drugs. One day, she was at line at the hospital pharmacy, when she noticed a young man looking at her with interest. Noting the amount of medicine he was collecting, Fatima wondered if he was HIV+ also. She met him again at the pharmacy and asked Dr. Sunitha Krishnan to find out more about him. The background of Fatima and the young boy matched, and both gave consent for marriage. On April 23, 2004, along with three other couples, Fatima and her young man were married in a traditional ceremony hosted by Prajwala. District-level officials attended and even granted government housing to the newlyweds. Fatima has wondered at times if life is worth living and has contemplated suicide on several occasions. However, her goal in life now is to be a contributing citizen to society. She says: “I want to keep smiling until the moment of my death.