Samrakshainspirations Blog
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Ramanna was a jogappa (a group of transgenders in South India who are followers of the Goddess Yallamma). He was born a Muslim, but went through the traditional ceremony of Muthu Kattodu (a ceremony of dedication to the goddess ) and became jogappa. He had been away from his family for a long time, but when he was in the terminal stages of HIV, he went back to them and disclosed his HIV status. His family brought him to Asha Jyoti centre, where he breathed his last.

His family were intent that they carry out his funeral based on Islamic rites, since he was after all their son. But the Islamic community in his native village were reluctant to offer him a space for burial, fearing that people would object. They suggested a funeral based on Hindu tradition. The grieving family came back to Asha Jyoti, to discuss this problem. Here, the team suggested that they speak to the leaders of Islamic community in this area.

The family spoke to the mullah who immediately agreed to support the burial in the area. About 25 members from the community came for the burial, and along with the Asha Jyoti team and the family members, giving the departed person a decent last rite and comforting the bereaved family. As the religious leader reflected, ‘What ever changes happened of late is not an issue, he is born in our community lived many years,he is also human being we should show our respect to him, let us not worry what other people say let us do our duty’.

These are the religious leaders who are taking the lead in the HIV response. They are caring, compassionate and empathetic. Through their own actions, they are setting the inspiring examples which other people can emulate.


The CBO (Community Based Organization) of women in sex work, Rakshane Mahila Okkoota, in Gadag, displayed amazing patience, tenacity and tolerance in dealing with an internal conflict. One of the CBO board members was pulled up for non-performance and voted out in the subsequent elections. She did not take kindly to this, and was quite disruptive of the CBO’s work after this.

She was also the signatory for the CBO’s bank account, and despite the board resolution regarding the change of signaotories, the bank was not willing to effect this change, untill the previous signatory authorized it. The bank account was therefore frozen.

The CBO decided to tackle this problem in a peaceful manner, by requesting the former member to provide the authorization. This was quite difficult since she still harbored resentment after being voted out. But continuous efforts over nine months, of being open to discuss with her, and attempting to convince her of the justice of their cause, finally paid off. She recently visited the office and signed the authorization, allowing for the unfreezing of the account.

In this age of leaders clinging to their ‘kursis’ and posing roadblocs to successors,  this young organization has shown remarkable democratic spirit,  by reaching out to the former leader and finally convincing them of the justice of their cause.


Being patient centered or client centered is something which is always valued but difficult to operationalize in health care settings. This is an incident shared by a counselor at Samraksha’s care centre, on how she learnt to be client centered.

At the care centre, a young lady Ratna was being cared for by her elder sister. She was just 22, her sister was a couple of years older. The sisters had lost their parents at a very young age. Ratna had also lost her husband to HIV and was herself very  sick. Her sister stayed with her during these difficult times, even though her husband complained about her being away all the time. In fact she left her own two children in her husband’s care in order to support her sister.

Ratna was extremely distressed by the fact that her own parents were no longer there to support her. She longed for her mother to care for her. Her sister understood this longing. She also felt that if this was addressed, her sister would automatically start feeling better. So during her stay in the hospital, she became her sister’s mother. She did everything which a mother would do for a child, feeding her, rocking her to sleep on her lap, comforting and soothing her. This kind of attention was what Ratna longed for, and when she got it, her health automatically started improving, and she felt well enough to get discharged.

According to the counselor, Ratna’s sister demonstrated to her that being client centered means understanding what is the most important need of the client, and satisfying it, no matter how difficult it is or how insignificant it seems.


For many people with HIV, stigma and discrimination dogs them, not just in life, but in their death also. People have been denied appropriate funeral with all the prescribed rites, frequently cremated when burial is the custom, or buried deep inside, in an isolated area, because of community prejudices against them. This robs the positive people of a dignified death, it also denies their near and dear ones an opportunity to properly mourn the dead, and reconcile with their death.

But the same communities, once they are able to understand different aspects of the issue, once they realize that people affected by HIV are one of them, and need their support, can also stretch out and ensure dignity in life and death for them.

At Samraksha’s care centre in Kushtagi, whenever a person dies, with no family around to claim the body, the community comes together, make personal contributions, and carry out the funeral. The police in the area usually take the lead on such ocassions. In one instance, when the grief struck family members at the centre, were not even able to mobilize resources to buy firewook for the cremation, the local policemen went to the firewood market, spoke to the sellers about the plight of the family, and requested them for support. Each of the sellers contributed whatever wood they could for the funeral.

In another instance, when a lady from the muslim community died in the centre, the religious leader visited the centre. Some women from the community came to clean and dress the corpse. The leader contributed money for the burial land, and in the presence of all the community elders, the burial procession was taken out.

Not just in the care centre, even within the communities, people with an understanding are coming forward to motivate the community. A young man, who had had intensive discussions with Samraksha on the issue of HIV, witnessed a positive person’s death in his community. Even the family members were reluctant to touch the body, or give the ritual bath. In such circumstances, this young man came forward, personally bathed and dressed the body. In doing so he not only  demonstrated to the community that HIV was not contagious, he also motivated the entire community to ensure that there was an appropriate funeral.


Children have been one of the most  affected by the  HIV epidemic. Caring for their parents, often orphaned, sometimes sick themselves sick, at a very young age, they are forced to take up adult responsibilities, or grow up without appropriate care and supervision from the adults in their families.

But for many of the children, their own communities have come to their rescue, helping them out, be it materially, or with care and concern. These communities, be they communities of geography or communities of identity, have, been through different facilitatory processes. This has helped them understand the issue of HIV, its impact on people, and their own strengths and capacities to make a response to it.

For two young children, whose mother died, leaving them in the care of aged and impoverished grandparents, their mothers peers among the community of women in sex work, contributed money, and made a bank deposit in the children’s names. They ensured that the interest on this amount reached the grandparents, and helped them care for the children.

For another young child who was on ART and again living with his grandmother, when the child discontinued ART because of issues with adherence, a neighboring lady motivated the grandmother to start him on ART again. SHe continues to support the family, to help the child get ART and also encourages her neighbors to support the nutrititional requirements of the child.

In another village, after the death of a young couple due to HIV, the children had nowhere to go to, since the relatives lived far away and were at that time unable to take in the children. All the village supported the children, who stayed in the different houses there, and continued living in their familiar envrionment. When the relatives finally came to take the children, the village was highly reluctant to send them away. As they said, “They are the boys of our village. They are like all our children”.


For the women in sex work, their collective has meant drawing strength in numbers, drawing courage from each other, and challenging injustice, with the full confidence that there is someone out there who cares and who will stand with them. Thus together, they have been able to do much, against the different kinds of exploitation they were being subjected to.

In the district of Uttar Kannada, many of the women lived in constant fear of exposure in the tabloid press. These newspapers had written about some of the women, exposed their identities, and brought them distress within their own families and communities. Many women suffered from this, but were hesitant to take action Finally, when a popular tabloid wrote explicitly about one of the women, the collective encouraged her  to challenge the journalist. She not only filed a case in court against him, but many women from all over the district came together, to support her and do a public demonstration against the journalist. The journalist at first tried to scare them away, and later offered some money to her, to withdraw. But more important than the money, was the need to stop such writing in future. Ultimately, the paper was forced to shut down.  Within their communities, these women were lauded for having acheived something, which even the most influential men had not been able to acheive.

In another instance, the women stumbled on a racket of pornographic film making, and brought it to the notice of the local authorities. When they tried to hush it up, they sought the intervention of higher authorities and had it addressed.

In this way, through their collective, the women are emerging from the margins, into the mainstream society. They address issues, which affect not just them, but also other people, and they seek redressal for their grievances from within the mainstream societies.


The collectives of women in sex work in different districts in North Karnataka are committed to ensuring that young people are not lured into sex work in any way. To this end, they have used many ingenious ways to rescue some of them or at least make their life better.

In one instance, a group of women got to know of a man, who had lured a young girl into a lodge.  As one of the women entered the room, and pretended to solicit services, the others helped the girl escape.

At another time, a woman complained to the group that her daughter had been kidnapped.  Another woman and her partner were able to trace the girl and help her escape from a brothel.

Women, as part of their collective, also negotiate with brothel madams, and pimps on behalf of the young women. In one instance, the collective came to know of the plight of a young woman in the brothel, who was being forced to service many clients in a day. The women convinced the brothel madam, to be more fair and considerate to her, and also give her a fair share of her earnings.

In each of these instances, the women have not just rescued the girls, but also given them reassurance, and comfort, and whenever necessary, helped them re-unite with their families.

These women have, for various reasons, become involved in sex work, and have chosen this work. They also acknowledge that this must be a choice, and have moved first to the rescue of those who were being forced into this.


In a bus stand in a busy district town in North Karnataka, a woman had been abandoned by her family. She was extremely sick, and too weak to even swat the flies hovering around her.

For the small crowd of people gathered around her, her condition and suffering were unacceptable. They decided that they would not leave her abandoned like this.  Spontaneously the group generated some money with which to help her. Someone offered that they knew where she lived, and would take her home. Auto drivers volunteered to help them, and ultimately a big group of people went to her village.

Her family was reluctant to take her back, because she was HIV positive, they built a separate shelter for her in the village. Some people contributed construction material for this, others gave their labor. In this shelter, she lived till her end.

Such spontaneous expressions of support, when the communities have reached out and supported one of their own have been quite common in Samraksha’s work with the community.


“ I was like a dry  tree existing with no joy and feeling no sense of purpose, alone and bereft, but over the last five years, I have sprouted fresh leaves and gone on to become a luxuriant tree with flowers and fruits to share with others” ….these were the words of a woman in sex work who had over the last five years moved from being all alone, eking out her living to finding solidarity and becoming a leader of a CBO helping hundreds of other women .

For many women, across five districts in Karnataka, this has been their story. Over the last five years, the women have come together, laughed over their common joys, shed tears for each others sorrow. Most importantly they have realized that they can make a change, in their own lives and in those of their community members. They have demonstrated their resilience by living through and blossoming under adversity, their courage and capacity by challenging and slowly changing marginalized systems, and their compassion, by reaching out and supporting people who are in need.

Gangamma is a sex worker, who as a peer volunteer for the HIV prevention programme, has been stocking condoms and distributing it toother women in her area, not just sex workers, but other women who may need it. This is what she had to say about her contribution, “ We say the doctor who saves lives is like god. For such a long time, I have been giving condoms to my neighbor, whose husband is HIV positive, and encouraging her to use it. Have I not saved her life?”

Another woman, Lingamma, has this to say about her life. “My husband died, and I have four small children. My in-laws were not nice to me, so I decided to live separately. I have faced many problems. I used to work in a bakery, and there men used to come and harass me. People have knocked at my door at night and harassed me. With Sneha Mahila Sangha, I have been able to face these people. We have even gone to the MLA (member of the state parliament) and complained about this.

From Lakshmamma, “After getting to know about Samraksha, I became a peer educator  for the HIV prevention programme. Initially I used to be scared, hesitant. I drew confidence from the other women, who were my peers and they began to trust me. Now we have Sneha Mahila Sangha. For all the woman, whether they are openly practicing sex work or not, through Sneha, we give them love, trust and an opportunity to come together.”

From Parvathi, “I was practicing sex work and I also used to drink a lot. Because of that  I lost money. Clients would rob me of both money and my jewellery.  With the support of my sisters in the community,  I have been able to stop drinking. I am now with the CBO and I want to help other women like me”.

From Basamma, “One of our women was HIV positive. When she was very sick, I took her to Asha Jyothi (care centre). There was no one from her family to support her. But I stayed with her when she had to be admitted there. But finally she died. All of us contributed to her funeral expenses.”

What has really helped has been the coming together, the realization that in unity there is strength. As Nagamma says, “What cannot be solved by one person, may be possible, if 10 more people support her”.


In many communities, there are individuals who  have made a difference to people living with HIV.  They may have given them care, or taken them for services or made a small accepting gesture. Frequently, these individuals do it amidst many fears, myths and misconceptions. The common myths about HIV transmission in casual interactions makes them afraid, their own families and communities may discourage such actions, but they still do it.

Here, these individuals share about how they have made a difference to their people.

One woman spoke amidst much tears about her son, who had died due to HIV 10 years ago. She said she had cared for her son, when his wife had left him at the mothers house. SHe had bathed him, fed him and looked after him in all ways, but he finally succumbed. She said she wished medicines had been available at that time to help him. Today, if she knew anybody who had HIV, she would definitely ask them to go and get medicines.

Another man spoke about his friend. After his friend’s wife knew he had HIV, she kept him seperate in the house. Even when he wanted to see his children, she wouldnt allow him to. When he came to know about his friends condition, he felt bad for his friend, and bravely went to his house, even though he was scared that he may get infected. He supported his friend in many ways. He shaved him, bathed him, visited him everyday till his death. After that, he got scared that he may have got HIV and got tested. The man now felt better that he knew HIV could not spread through casual contact, and affirms that he will continue to support other people with HIV.

Members of a woman’s self help group shared that when one of their members became sick. they took her to many doctors, and finally found she had HIV. They put in their own money and took her to a bigger hospital, some distance away. But she did not get well and finally died. The members shared that now that they knew about services like ART, they would definitely send people to these places.

In one village, the community shared about a young couple in the village. They had seemed well, but suddenly the husband fell sick and died. later the wife also died. They had HIV. The two children are in the care of the grandmother. The community said that they always thought the children will have the infection and not long to live. But now they knew with good nutrition people with HIV can live for a long time. So they said they would all try to support the grandmother to give good food to the children.

A woman shared about her cousin, whose husband died three months after her marraige. She returned to her mother’s house. The community never knew she had HIV, she was normal, used to work and talk. She continued taking medicines and services, and lived for 10 years after that. The woman shared that had her cousin been alive, she would have really appreciated this process and taken part in it.

Another older woman spoke about a young couple, who were her tenants. They had seemed well, but then suddenly the husband fell sick, and later the wife also died. They had HIV. She said she wished she had known about services like ART then, maybe she could have helped them. In future, she would definitely send people to these services.

Like this in many villages, people have known and continue to interact with people with HIV. They have cared for them to the best of their abilities. Now, with a greater understanding of what they could do to help people with HIV, they are eager to help, by referring to services, and by supporting them in other ways .