Fighting AIDS for 13 years - and winning
New Delhi, March 8: Newly married Celina was busy knitting dreams of life and love when destiny dealt a cruel blow - she was infected with AIDS through her husband at the age of 21.
Now, 13 years later, she has not only put up a tough fight against the disease and society but has also been advocating economic independence for women like her.
"When I tested HIV positive, my world crashed. My dreams were shattered, but for the sake of my husband I decided to carry on," said Celina, one of the two million plus HIV/AIDS women patients in India.
"When my in-laws came to know about his (husband's) illness, they did not touch him. Even the doctors did not pay any attention and we were told that he should take rest at home."
She says her husband may have contracted the disease from a prostitute.
"A few months after my husband came to know about his illness, he died and my fight for both life and livelihood started," she added, confessing that she wanted to commit suicide initially.
She remembers how, when her husband died, even the priest showed a lot of hesitation in completing the funeral rituals. After experiencing her in-laws' attitude towards her, she did not go to her parents either, fearing "they too will throw me out of home".
Celina now lives alone in a rented home and is employed with a Delhi-based self-help group that works for the betterment of HIV positive people. A humanities graduate, she manages to earn enough to sustain herself.
"I have gone through a lot of agony, but finally got rid of them all."
Hers has been a journey of self-realisation and independence.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about the disease and disseminating information about it can do wonders in a closed society like India. Ignorance is the biggest enemy of any AIDS patient.
"Even now there are thousands of women who have been suffering from discrimination and all due to ignorance."
Her life can be an inspiration to India's 5.1 million HIV/AIDS patients, 40 percent of whom are women.
"After realising my health problem, I became more conscious of my illness and took care of my health," said Celina who looks fit and cheerful.
"People should not leave everything to destiny and should work towards economic independence. It is a great equaliser and gives women like me a lot of satisfaction."
On the occasion of International Women's Day Wednesday, "all women suffering from AIDS should vow to take care of their own health and live a life of dignity through self-help and economic independence," she added.