A pair of wooden cots,a kerosene stove,some utensils and a couple of sacks containing their belongings all covered by a blue tarpaulin sheet on the edge of a graveyard right outside their village. This was home for five minors (four brothers and a sister) for almost a month at Jamua village in Pratapgarh district after their parents died within a few years of each other,allegedly due to AIDS.
The children said they lived here out of fear of contracting the disease if they remained in their village house where their mother died on June 20. The children did not say they were ostracised by the villagers.
However,the villagers had no clear answer as to why nothing was done to prevent them from taking refuge in a make-shift tent. There are no documents that show the parents died of AIDS.
The administration,meanwhile,sprung into action on Friday following media reports. There were announcements galore: The children would be given more than a biswa of land on lease on the approach road to the village; two of them would be admitted to Navodaya schools; one of them would go to a Madarasa; and the administration will extend all possible help in the marriage of the girl,aged around 15. Further,the Chief Minister announced Rs 1 lakh each to all the five children. The eldest will also be given a job card under MGNREGS and a BPL card.
Public Health Centre (PHC) in-charge of Mandhata,Dr Naushad Hussain,said the blood tests of all the five children have been conducted and they all tested negative for HIV.
Chief Medical Officer (Pratapgarh) Vinod Kumar Pandey said: None of them have tested positive. So,whatever doubts the villagers may have had will now be removed.
For now,the children – the four boys aged 18,13,11 and nine and the girl 15 – have been shifted to a pucca house of their grandmother,located opposite the semi-pucca house in which the childrens mother had died.
The father used to live in Bhiwandi (Maharashtra) and would ply trucks between Mumbai and Surat. More than five years ago,he reportedly died due to AIDS.
My mother began remaining unwell almost immediately after my fathers death. When she died last month,we were scared that we will contract the disease too. Therefore,we left, said the 13-year-old boy. Their uncle,Salahuddin,said: The children were scared. We were taking care of them. We had come to know that my brother had AIDS. His wife,too,died of the same. Asked why the children were living in the graveyard,Salahuddin only said: The misunderstanding has now been removed.
In the last one month or so the children have been surviving on rations they got from the local fair price shop. Whatever little we had was used in buying necessary items. Our sister used to prepare the meals, said the eldest of them all. The tarpaulin sheet was provided by a family in the neighbourhood.
Their grandmother Ishratunnisa said: We dont have a problem now (in accommodating the children). She did not say why she did not do the same earlier.
I had asked their uncle why the children were kept near the graveyard. He would only tell me not to worry,as he was nearby to take care of them, said Mohammad Habibul Rashid,a villager.
Asha worker Vidya Singh said: I was not aware that their father had died due to AIDS. I would often ask the childrens mother to get a medical health check-up done in Pratapgarh. But she never agreed,claiming there was nothing wrong with her. The last time I came in the village was 10 days ago. Nobody told me about the children.