I first heard about Kausalya from a friend of mine. Her sister-in-law worked at an NGO which was founded by her. She founded the first organization for AIDs afflicted women in South India, called Positive Women’s Network. My friend used to tell me stories of her city bred, sophisticated sister-in-law visiting the Dabha’s in the highways to educate prostitutes on the use of condoms. I was intrigued by these stories. But what really moved me was the story of the founder herself.
Kausalya was 19 years old when she was married to a truck driver. Her husband was HIV positive and he married her inspite of knowing this. Within a few weeks of marriage he was tested positive for AIDS and seven months later he died, leaving her HIV positive. Imagine a 19 year old uneducated women , based in a conservative small southern town of Namakkal, widowed and with a disease which has so much social stigma associated with it. This was in 1995 when the awareness of AIDS was almost non-existent. I wonder if it is possible to be in a deeper dump than this.
But Kausalya was not defeated. She came to Chennai with the support of her family and friends. She told her story to the media and also talked about the precautions young women should take before they married. Remember this was at a time when people were afraid to acknowledge that they had the disease. She founded the PWN plus with the help of another NGO called INP plus.
Since then she has worked tirelessly for her cause. She has spoken in several international conferences and media forums. I was reading her interview in Rediff and she says “I have spoken in the Indian Parliament to our MPs about the problems HIV positive people face. I also was fortunate enough to address the UK Parliament. I have had interactions with our President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and also with Congress President Sonia Gandhi. I could achieve all this because I was an HIV positive woman. I consider these some of the advantages of being a ‘positive’ woman! If I were not HIV positive, I would have lived like an ordinary woman in Namakkal” Wow, this is what I call positive thinking.
I was watching the CNN-IBN Indian of the year, awards show on TV yesterday. She was one of the nominees in the “public service” category. They requested her to say a few words. Present in the ceremony, were the elite of India, clad in their finest suits and looking very sophisticated. She was dressed in an ordinary saree and looked very much a poor lady from Namakkal. She stood up with a smile and confidently addressed the gathering in broken English, “ I am a HIV positive women and I want to help other like myself. I believe that we deserve the same respect like others in the society. I am truly honored to be nominated for the award.” Although she groped for words, through out the short speech neither her smile nor her confidence wavered.
Hats off to Kausalya. She has proven that no matter what your circumstances, you can make the best use of it.