HIV not only takes a toll on a person's body, it also shatters them from within. And on top of that society makes it difficult to live with peace and respect.
Back in 2001, Ratna Jadhav was one of those who would wanted to end their lives after being diagnosed as HIV positive. But now she has just one mission in life and that is to prevent other HIV positive people from ending their lives.
Born in Takeli village in Ahmednagar district, Ratna was abandoned by her parents as they were expecting a son after three daughters. Talking to Mumbai Mirror, she said:
"My mother was so unhappy that she refused to feed me, hoping that I would die of starvation, but the neighbours talked sense into her."
She was also forced to drop out of school when she was in fifth grade. It was only because of her teacher's financial help that she could study further till Secondary School level.
At the age of 15, she was married off to Dattu Jadhav in Panvel. Just five months into their marriage, Dattu fell seriously ill, but he never revealed to Ratna that he had HIV. A year later, when their son Lakhan was born, Dattu was diagnosed HIV positive and Ratna and her son tested positive, too.
The stigma around HIV didn't let Ratna and her family live in peace. They were thrown out of their village.
"The neighbours stopped speaking to us, my husband lost his job, and friends soon became strangers. We left Mumbai and went to my husband’s native place in Pimpalgaon in Jamkhed."
Even the local doctors refused to treat them. In 2001, Dattu succumbed to the deadly virus and Ratna and her son were rendered homeless. She returned to her parent's home when her in-laws threw her out, only to be secluded and separated from the rest of her family. She had to live in a goat shed in the backyard with her 4-month-old son.
After years of struggle, she finally found a job as a labourer in a road project. Before she could save enough money for her son's treatment, one day she returned from work to see her son dead.
After her son's death, she lost the will to live and tried to commit suicide. She drank a glass of pesticide, but somehow managed to survive. This incident changed her life forever.
When social workers Jayesh Kamble and Dr Rajnikant Arole, Founder, CRHP, approached Jadhav, she readily agreed to join the organisation that provides healthcare to the poorest of the poor.
"For me, Dr Arole was like a godfather. Not only did he provide food and shelter, he also gave me the confidence to fight the disease."
With the help of Dr. Arole, the community started accepting her gradually. Today Ratna lives in Khadkat, and has taken the task of educating the locals about HIV and general healthcare upon herself. She visits every house in Khadkat and tells them about non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and respiratory issues.
"I tell the villagers that I am an HIV positive person, and if I can be healthy, they can too."
Speaking to Mumbai Mirror, a 40-year-old HIV positive man, said:
“Today I am alive and in a good health only because of Ratna. Otherwise I would have ended my life a long time ago.”
Not just him, Ratna has been a saviour for many other HIV patients. Such is her popularity that she is invited to several other villages to talk about her life struggles. She also delivered a speech in Switzerland on how she is helping HIV positive people lead a normal life.
Be it Switzerland or Khadkat, Jadhav's only aim is to help people suffering from HIV and she will continue to do so as long as she lives.
"You only get one life. If you have life, it is a precious life. I’m going to convince those who are depressed to fight for their life and strive for health and joy. That’s what I intend to do on this planet."
We may have progressed as a society, but the stigma attached with those suffering from HIV/AIDS still continues to plague us deeply. Kudos to Ratna's resolve and spirit for reaching out to people and spreading awareness.