HIV activist Jyoti Dhawale lives in Mumbai with her husband, Vivek Surve . Her face radiating with positivity and laughter, one glance at her would never be enough to decipher the amount of hardships she has had to endure over the course of her life.
When life handed her lemons, she chucked them right back, and how! Growing up in an Air Force Camp, she aspired to be a fighter pilot like her father. Jyoti dreamt of revelling through the skies in those "mean flying machines". But her aspirations were cut short because of an accident at the age of three, which rendered her hearing impaired.
Being diagnosed with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss at the age of three was the first obstacle that came in Jyoti's way.
Jyoti can now hear sounds only at and above 80 decibels, and resorts to lip reading while following face to face conversations. Speech defects go hand in hand with hearing impairment, and in Jyoti's case, it is an inability to pronounce certain letters like C, S and X. But none of this dampened her spirits!
Her marriage with her first husband was a dream come true. They were in love and things were rosy. But things started unfolding differently when Jyoti got pregnant. It was then that her husband expressed his aversion to the idea of having babies, and insisted that she abort the child.
He refused to use protection during intercourse, which led to two more pregnancies, and subsequent abortions. Vaginal or Oral contraceptives didn't work out for her, so abortion was the only way out.
It was during when she was about to go through with her 4th abortion that it was discovered that medical negligence from former abortion procedures had led her to test positive for HIV.
Her husband, however, tested negative and despite him pressuring her to abort the child, she decided to go forth with the pregnancy. She was blessed with a baby boy- healthy and HIV negative.
It was downhill from there. "I never expected a friendship to be broken when I shared my positive status with my best friend whom we use to share everything under the sun. Secondly, there were also an incidence of a friend’s family not allowing me to enter their home or even have a sip of water from the glass", she narrates.
Soon after this, her husband started pushing for divorce. Despite her circumstances, and instead of providing support, he resorted to physical abuse and coerced her into signing the papers. In her worst time, even love had given up on her.
Her ex-husband managed to get custody for their child, and Jyoti is still struggling to acquire visitation rights. None of this was enough to bog her down. She fought through her struggles, and started working for an IT company to support herself.
Real life stories of people who beat the odds to come out stronger have kept her going, she says. "People who survived Godhra-kand, people who survived the Mumbai attacks, people who overcame their disability and proved it to be an ability in itself", have been a constant inspiration for her.
Not letting her circumstances get in the way of living a fulfilled life, Jyoti joined hands with a number of NGOs to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS.
It was probably because of the positivity with which she approached her life, things turned around for Jyoti soon after. She met Vivek at a chatroom, and a solid friendship blossomed over time.
When her father passed away, Vivek stood by her side, and was her constant solace. Soon after, they started dating and it wasn't long before they tied the knot.
Cut to present times, Jyoti and Vivek are happily married to each other. Vivek is the best thing to have happened to her, chimes Jyoti. Vivek is HIV negative.
Jyoti is now associated with NGOs like Beydaar (Pakistan) as an Ambassador, The Well Project (USA) as Community Advisor Board, The Sitma Project (Usa) as an Ambassador. She is constantly working to spread awareness about HIV empowerment.
"On a scale of 1-10, I would rate India as a pitiful 2.5 when it come to knowledge, treatment and care", she says about the state of affairs in terms of HIV awareness in the country.
She stresses on the importance of efforts that need to be made in order to impart HIV education and empowerment in both rural and urban areas, including training for doctors.
On the question of disability, she says the problem lies in not being able to believe that differently-abled people can get things done. "One needs to be more sensitive towards those having special needs rather than to be made fun of and laughed at. They don’t need sympathy, just an understanding and learning to adapt with them", she says.