Jaipur’s Dream for the Future


Jean Williams at Sunanda Gandhi School

Jean Williams

Eleven-year-old Jaipur knows more about AIDS than most anyone her age. Even though she does not have the disease nor does she carry the virus, she has felt the emotional pain as if she were afflicted. Seven years ago, AIDS took the life of her father. Her mother-tested positive prior to his death but medication has sustained her life thus far.

Jaipur’s friendly, responsive smile changes as she begins to relate the memories of her early years. She states, “my worst recall is watching my father dying as I stood by helplessly. To this day I continue to have nightmares of that scene as if, maybe in my dream, I could somehow save him.”

For centuries, the Indian civilization has continued to value a very rigid social order of life within the family unit and maintains the same sense of adherence to the broader categorization of the caste system. As difficult as it was for such a small child as Jaipur to loose her dad, just imagine how profound Jaipur must have felt being denied the usual safety net of her father’s extended family.

Unfortunately, this is often the case of a child being orphaned due to a parent’s death of AIDS. The surviving family members may choose not to be associated with the children of the deceased even if the children in question are grandchildren. Instead, some families choose to abide by society’s norms by turning their backs as the children are being banished from the community. Even on a larger scale, it is considered shameful (even for children) if the family structure is dissolved for any reason, e.g., divorce, parental death or abandonment. The added dimension of a family member dying from AIDS may further stigmatize the children of an afflicted parent since the death could be viewed as a sign of bad karma. The family is considered “normal” only if they follow the given social order.

It is apparent from the discussions with Jaipur that she is living with the backlash of these social norms. She has no one to come to her rescue except the staff of Avani School, but she has good command of the English language and is sought out for speaking parts during all Avani’s programs. Due to her joy for learning, she and I have added English reading lessons each morning before she goes to school. She is a very resilient child and radiates warmth to all around her.

The odds of similar circumstances affecting AIDS-orphans in India is staggering with over two million children in this category. But playing the numbers game is counterproductive and perhaps even callous since these young people’s lives are also at stake just as their parents suffered. India’s AIDS-orphaned children are being denied their hopes, aspirations, and rights due to their community’s devotion to a social order based on illogical customs and fear.

Jaipur wants to be a pediatrician when she grows up. We have discussed the number of years she must devote to studying but each conversations ends without Jaipur hesitating and explaining, “I’ll do it”. I believe in her dream but she needs all of our readers’ concern and support.

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