India is home to about 5.7 million HIV/AIDS infected persons. Howsoever awareness may be among people about this deadly virus, majority people still do not want to touch a HIV infected person. When it comes to looking after the HIV infected infants, nobody comes forward. But Manglatai of Pandharpur has displayed extraordinary courage in the care of such children. Today she looks after 62 such children. She knows she cannot avoid the unavoidable destined for them, she is only trying to bring a joy on their faces.
The pandemic of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) needs no elaboration, as majority of the people are aware of it. About 36 million people globally and 5.7 million in India are said to be living with this deadly virus. Women and children are the most vulnerable. According to the UNICEF, about 38 per cent of the infected persons in India are women, who are unknowingly passing the virus on to their children. About 55,000 to 60,000 such children are born every year. About 30 per cent of them get the infection during mother’s pregnancy, labour or through breastfeeding after six months.
HIV infection is not just an incurable diseases, it brings with it the unbearable saga of discrimination at every level, even at home. The young can somehow manage, but the sufferings of the orphan kids and infants are heart-rending. They have to undergo the punishment for the offences their parents committed. After the loss of any one of the parents or both, they are deprived of affection, support and protection. The people look after the dogs and cats with utmost care but not these kids. In this situation the life for such kids is equal to hell. When even the meal is not available the question of treatment, education and social support does not arise.
It is under these circumstances that Manglatai Shah of Pandharpur, Maharashtra, started caring such homeless, parentless and destitute children in 2003. Before starting this project, she was working for the uplift of prostitutes and abandoned women in Pandharpur. In order to generate awareness about AIDS among them she chose the medium of street plays. She herself wrote some street plays and her daughter started performing those plays in the surrounding villages. In one village, she found two girl child thrown into the cowshed after they got infected by AIDS. Their parents had passed away due to the same disease. They had grandparents but they did not look after them. Manglatai brought both of them with her and started ‘Palawi’, which now shelters 62 HIV infected children. The youngest girl child is of three months and the eldest is 19 year old. There are two physically challenged women also.
‘Palawi’ means foliage. True to it, Manglatai (Phone: 09881533403) is nurturing the plants (infants) so that they can face the unavoidable with courage. “What will happen to them is known to all. We can only delay the unavoidable,” she says. Along with other activities, education up to class VII is imparted to these children. Manglatai has full faith that one day the medicine will definitely be available to combat this fatal disease and these children will win this battle of life. For this, the lives of these kids should be enlightened with education. Hence a daily schedule has been planned.
Their day begins at 5.30 am. Since their body resistance slowly decreases due to AIDS, for maintaining the stability of health, cow urine is regularly given to them. After it a considerable improvement has been noticed in their health. Yogasanas are also practised regularly. Nutritious kheer is served in the morning. They assemble in the classroom at 9 ‘o’ clock. After three hours of school, they take rest in the afternoon. Taking into account their physical capacities, hobby classes are conducted for them. They are also taught to create different items from coconut coir. They are allowed to play for a longer time as this sportsman spirit increases their enthusiasm towards life. Motivational television programmes are showed to them. Mass prayer is held in the evening. Agnihotra is held twice a day at the time of prayers. Picnic is also organised annually.
In every adverse condition Manglatai stood as a strong pillar of strength undeterrently carrying on her work. Playing with a baby whose sister had recently passed away, she says, “What was the fault of these siblings who were brought irresponsibly into the world?” For the last nine years many infants have breathed their last in the lap of Manglatai. She appears to be trying to put the death to sleep and in the meantime bringing some cheers and happiness to the hapless children. She never feels that she is doing anything extraordinary.
When asked where you get this compassion from she replies, “From river and trees. Rivers never seek to know who uses their water; trees never discriminate while giving fruits and shelter.” Her words and work increase our faith in life and humanity. Looking at this simple lady in the form of Manglatai one may not realise the outstanding work she is carrying out.
Howsoever awareness may be among the people about AIDS, still majority do not want to touch the HIV infected persons. When it comes to looking after the HIV infected infants, nobody comes forward. But Manglatai displayed extraordinary courage. She looks after all the child as if they are her own. People are awestruck by her outstanding work. She is totally dedicated to the cause of bringing joy in the lives of these ephemeral children largely rejected by the society. Manglatai’s son, daughter and son-in-law Rajkumar have also joined her in this laudable activity.