Orphaned HIV+ Student Goes to School Again

Community Correspondent Rohini Pawar succeeds in her battle against prejudice and discrimination

Keshav does not know why he was expelled suddenly from his school. His teacher told him one day that he could only come to school to sit for his exams. The reason? Keshav is one of the estimated two hundred and twenty thousand children living with HIV/AIDS in India.

Discrimination in schools against HIV+ children is not new. Similar cases of expulsions have been reported from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Haryana between 2009 and 2012. India does not yet have a comprehensive law to protect people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs) from the routine discrimination and stigma they face at home, work, educational and healthcare institutions.

Keshav is lucky that his story came to the notice of Rohini Pawar, a Video Volunteers Community Correspondent and a respected rights activist in her community. Under the Right to Education Act (2010) children up to the age of fourteen years have a fundamental right to free and compulsory education in government schools. The law enjoins school authorities to particularly ensure that vulnerable children do not drop out from schools as a result of discrimination.

Rohini says she was shocked and saddened that a teacher entrusted with educating children could stigmatise a young boy and isolate him in this manner.

So she intervened on behalf of Keshav. She captured Keshav and his family’s testimonies in a moving video report and showed it to the teachers and the principal of his school. After two months, he was allowed to join his classmates and study in school. The principal, it turns out, was not even aware that Keshav’s class teacher had expelled him from school.

Keshav dreams of being a doctor. He is an orphan whose parents died from HIV/AIDS. He is looked after by his ageing grandmother who supports him and his brother on a meagre pension. For every success story like Keshav, there are thousands of HIV+ children who battle daily discrimination in schools because of apathetic or misinformed school authorities and lax district education officers who fail to implement anti-discrimination laws. For now, it is only a few concerned individuals like Rohini Pawar who are stepping in to address the wrongs that the authorities are too lax to acknowledge.

Video by Rohini Pawar Article by Madhura Chakraborty

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