The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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HIV siblings left alone in school

Thiruvananthapuram, Feb. 28: Benson and Bency literally fought their way to school, but the fruit of success is turning bitter for the two HIV-positive children.

The entire community of Kummanaloor in the southern Kerala district of Kollam is boycotting the school they were admitted to last week.

If the doors of several schools were shut on these children earlier because of their HIV-positive status, they now find themselves in another sorry situation where they are the only students attending classes in the entire school. Bency is seven years old and her brother Benson is five.

Jameela Beevi, headmistress of the Kummanaloor Lower Primary Government School, told The Telegraph that parents are coming in droves to take their children away from the school. “They say that their kids are facing great risks to health because these two children are studying with them.”

Beevi, though, has not given transfer certificates to any student. “If I give it to one student, I’m sure that I will have to give it to almost all others, except Bency and Benson,” she added.

The two children, whose parents had died of AIDS, had been knocking on the doors of several schools for admission for the last two years.

After being turned down everywhere, the children, along with their grandfather Geevarghese John, staged a day-long fast in front of the chief minister’s office on February 14. Finally, the Kummanaloor school agreed to admit them.

But the way things are going, the children may not get to study here for long. Guardians of several students justify their “social boycott”, saying it is “natural justice”.

According to T. Madhusudhanan, whose son studies in the same school, the school management should have never accepted Bency and Benson as “they pose a threat to the lives of the other students in the school”. “There are 115 other students in this school. What will happen to them if they contract the AIDS virus from these kids' Why don’t you people think of them'” he asks.

C. Chacko, a member of the parent-teachers’ association of the school, said the association is not ready to risk the lives of 115 students for the sake of educating two HIV-positive children.

“No one is sure how AIDS spreads. Even doctors make conflicting claims on this. How can we risk the lives of our kids in this confusing situation'”

The AIDS Control Society has been campaigning to get rid of misconceptions on HIV but this seems to have had little impact in Kummanaloor.

M.N. Gunavardhan, project controller of the society, told The Telegraph that it was total ignorance about the nature and spread of HIV that was driving the people of the area to resort to extreme steps.

“We will have to undertake a massive sensitisation drive in the locality, but it remains to be seen how much of an effect it will have,” he said.

As Gunavardhan and his colleagues at the society ponder over strategies and tactics to dispel ignorance and callousness of the people, Bency and Benson continue their lonely trudge to school, where they have no friends to play or study with.

Their grandfather laments the outcaste status the children have acquired for no fault of theirs.

“I struggled for two years for these children and last week I thought we were at the end of the tunnel. What will I do now'” the 65-year-old Geevarghese wonders as Kerala’s “progressive society” fails a crucial test in human compassion.

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