Title: The life never ends
HIV positive Child at Bishnapur, South 24 Pargans denied for Education by Villagers
The incident of school denial was taken place in the month of July, 2015 at Bishnapur – II, South 24 Parganas. South 24 Parganas network of People Living with HIV/AIDS brought this issue in to the notice of all concerned people related to deviation of child rights.
Sanjay(Nick Name) one a CLHIV of 7 years, studying in standard one, is living at Chakbalaibag (Near Nepalgunge) in Bishnupur area of South 24 Parganas. He had faced severe discrimination in Deepsikha Nursery School, where he was denied education and playing with other children due to his HIV sero-reactive. At the same time, his grandmother who is working as an educator in the same school was pressurized to undergo HIV testing at the ICTC run by a local reputed NGO chain. Sanjay(Nick Name) and his family members were repeatedly being confronted with unjustified demand of exclusion from his school, which was specifically raised by the guardians due to his HIV reactivity. Certain unethical words were uttered by the guardians, such as-“o to beshidin banchbe na, ok ar school e parate habe na” (he has no need to attend school as he could not live much longer).
The helpless CLHIV and his family members continuously started facing stigma and discrimination at village. The staff and members of SNP+ tried to convince the headmaster of Deepshikha Nursery school but he was not agreed to reinstate the child in school and suggested to study from home. Afterward President of SNP+ informed to CMOH, BDO and Gram Panchayat regarding denial of right to education of HIV positive child. They even did not give the emphasis on the issue of Sanjay(Nick Name).
Project director of SNP+ brought this issue into the knowledge of State Commission for Protection of Child Right and District Child Protection Officer and informed about denial of right to education of CLHIV. Accordingly Advocacy officer sent the order copy of School Education Department that no child shall be denied for right to education irrespective of HIV status.
At the same time, we followed up with the school authority and local stakeholders regarding continuation of child schooling at Deepshikha Nursery School but due to few social misconceptions about HIV/AIDS among the villagers as well as local level political stakeholders of that particular area. Although HIV transmission is not likely to occur during social interactions, one local level stakeholder at Panchayat level, with his “deep understanding and knowledge on HIV/AIDS” had added fuel to the fire of rebel against Sanjay's(Nick Name) family. He said the HIV can be present in the body of Child and his clothes. It can also transmit through mosquito bites. Sanjay's(Nick Name) parents were also living with HIV and detected in 2014
SNP+ with the help of DCPO continuously followed up with district administration officials. DCPO also actively took part in address the stigma and discrimination associated with child living with HIV and ensure his right of education but he could not get success to include child in school due to various constraints. He sent a request letter to Headmaster of Deepshikha Nursery School on July 13, 2015 but didn’t get any response. Later on the Additional District Magistrate issued an order to organise a meeting in presence of all local stakeholders as well as school authority. The ADM issued an order on August 18, 2015 to BDO of Bishnapur II Block to organise the meeting but the BDO didnot give emphasis on this sensitive issue. DRT of Deepshikha, SNP+ and DCPO tried our best to convene this meeting in presence of Parents of Deepshikha Nursery School but meeting did not happen.
The issue again brought into notice of BDO of Bishnupur as the earlier BDO transferred and newly joined BDO understood the sensitivity of issue and suggested to organise meeting on September 17, 2015. He sent a letter to all concerned but unfortunately this meeting was deferred till after Puja festival.
The child and his mother knocked door to door for justice and continuation of school but she also didn’t get success. We all know that with the advancement of the antiretroviral therapy (ARV) has extended life expectancy for children born with HIV, allowing them to live longer, healthier lives and to attend school. National Education Policy guarantees every child the right to education and protection from all forms of discrimination. The harassment didn’t end there. In the mean time, the child maternal grandmother, who teaches bengali in the same school, was forced to take an HIV test to prove herself that she doesn’t have HIV and since then been a target of repeated verbal abuse. However, HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination again came to the limelight in the district of South 24 Parganas.
Mother didn’t get ray of hope for his child. Despite the West Bengal administration stepping in this seven year old’s future, she decided to confront media on November 18, 2015 with a decision taken Project Director. She said media that despite the information to Headmaster regarding his condition being confidential, it leaked to other parents and almost a hundred of them signed a petition demanding that the boy be asked to leave the school. For the past five months, the boy has been trying to study in his tiny single room. The boy said to media that “I want to go back to school”. I liked studying and being with other friends, in their school uniforms and I feel very sad. Parents said “If boy comes back, we will not let our son study with him. This is not why we spend so much money and send him to a private school. The school headmaster said “there are other parents who initially didn’t want him to study in the school. But we never asked his family to not send the boy to school. He has not been coming of his own accord. If he comes back, he will not be harassed”
After the media advocacy confrontation by his mother and staff of SNP+, It came up to Women and Child Development Minister and she said, “the school has to take the child back. Afterwards, If boys family wants to change schools in the next academic year, that’s up to them. Such ostracisation of an HIV positive family is just not going to happen. But the larger problem is about awareness, which has to solve through acceptance. She suggested convening a meeting by involving district administration officials, parents and child welfare committee in the school to solve this issue.
The meeting was conducted on November 22, 2015 at Deepshikha Nursery school scheduled at 12 noon. All district administration officials including NGO workers, parents, teachers and officials from WBSAPCS were present in that meeting. The child and his mother were also present in the meeting.
The SDO chaired the meeting. Other than BDO, DCPO, CMOH, deputy II CMOH, Panchayat Pradhan, Swasthya karmadaksha, Zilla Parisha and other such important stakeholders were participated in the meeting. The CMOH and other officials oriented parents on the issues of HIV/AIDS, route of transmission and other social aspects and social responsibilities and requested to accept child and allow him to study in same school with other children. The 143 students are studying in this school and their parents almost they were not in consensus regarding continuation of schooling of child. They had different opinion and most of them suggested that child to discontinue this school and take admission in other school as they will not allow their wards to study with him. Their concerned was in case if accident would happen during playing with each other then who will take the responsibility. They also advice to Sanjay's mother to take care of his health as health is important rather than the education. Few of them suggested that Shan can continue the study in same school but there should have separate provision for him. A teacher will specially take care of him and teach him separately. The members of SNP+ were shared their own journey of life and positive living.
District administration officials said that let the parents can also share their concern if child starts study in school. The parents were different opinions. Later on, a gentleman on behalf of parents said that we don’t have any problem if child study in school but the there should have someone who will look after the child in case of any accident happened during school time for the safety purpose. All participants accepted the proposal and welcomed his decision and same time ensured for a care giver for child to be provided by district administration.
Headmaster of Deepshikha Nursery School also shared that he never been asked to stop the school but his mother has not send him school by her own choice. But his main concerned was his livelihood as well social responsibility for Sanjay(Nick Name). He is running this private school for his livelihood and he charges only Rs 140 per month from the students but he didn’t get the school fee from his mother from the 14 to 15 months. He gave reminder to his mother several times for clearing the fees but he never said her not to send the child in school.
SDO and MLA of South 24 Pargans took the responsibility of payment of due fees of Shan and also to provide care giver to school to look after the children in Deepshikha Nursery School. SDO also instructed BDO and DCPO to monitor the school on weekly basis and submit the report. SDO also suggested to keep watching the number of children leaving this school.
Shan’s mother also requested support from villagers for their support. Meeting ended with vote of thanks and consensus for child to continue school from Monday November 23, 2015. Folk media people were sang a song on HIV/AIDS and aware villagers on HIV/AIDS issue organised by WBSAPCS and district administration.
Finally the long pending case of school denial was solved by intervention of school admisntration.