The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Row over inquiry into AIDS death

Hyderabad, July 14: The probe by the National Commission for Women into the alleged killing of an AIDS patient in Andhra Pradesh was held today amid allegations that the panel was out to malign the state and its people.

Slogan-shouting self-help groups protested the inquiry by the commission in Kuppam.

The demonstrators, all praise for chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, even stopped members of the panel and local NGOs, who were in favour of the inquiry, from speaking to the media at the state guesthouse.

Pavanamma, 32, was allegedly stoned to death by neighbours at B.C. Colony in Munuswamypuram village on her way home from a shop. An Australian NGO had written to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam condemning the incident.

Government agencies had attributed the death to the late stage of the disease.

Government-sponsored self-help groups today urged the commission not to bring a bad name to Kuppam and their leader Naidu by making baseless allegations. “We are not cruel enough to ill-treat our own people,” one of the group leaders said and urged the commission to stop the “charade”.

“Let police do the proper inquiry rather than this (the commission’s probe), which will serve only a political objective of few.”

The commission left Kuppam with an impression that Pavanamma had died in a sorry state even though charges that she was murdered by relatives and neighbours went unsupported. It spoke to 180 people and more than 20 NGOs.

“The entire scenario is fishy and everyone is very edgy here,” commission chairperson Poornima Advani said before leaving for Bangalore. She added that she was open to more testimony from the residents and that they “need not feel scared” to approach her with fresh evidence.

Advani said the police and the relatives had failed to produce her burnt bones. “This makes us very suspicious.”

Residents at Munuswamypuram village stopped Advani and castigated her. “Our children have been segregated in schools and our women are asked to sit separately in cinema halls,” they said.

The women’s panel inquiry follows an impromptu probe by International AIDS Control Society representative Rahiv Sadanand and the director of the state’s AIDS control society, Damayanti.

They visited the village and went to Pavanamma’s house.

Though pro-government agencies mounted a concerted effort against the women’s panel probe, the Naidu regime had directed officers in Kuppam to provide all facilities to Advani and the other panel members.

The chairperson had earlier complained that some of the assistants allocated to her were intervening in her work. The officers were withdrawn.

Officials of the AIDS control society at Chittoor and from the directorate of health were rushed to Kuppam to assist the commission.

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