Swaraj embraced HIV-infected kids abandoned by society

Even then Kerala Chief Minister AK Antony kept a distance from Benson and Benzie whom then Union Health Minister Sushma Swaraj embraced at a PC

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Thiruvananthapuram: Sushma Swaraj was the health minister in the second Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. I was a reporter for Surya TV those days when an incident from Kollam drew my attention. Two young children, Benson and Benzie, were infected with HIV. They were expelled from school. Benson and Benzie grew up under the care of their father and grandmother. HIV had claimed the lives of their parents already and the children had acquired the disease from the mother. The school and locals were aware of the illness the children were suffering from. When they learnt about it, there was a huge commotion.

Parents were no longer willing to send their children to study with Benson and Benzie. Finally, the authorities barred them from attending the school. Besides the expulsion from the school and the isolation in society, the grandparents were struggling to arrange money for the treatment of Benson and Benzie.

The matter came up for discussion in the community. Apart from me, Roy Mathew in Zee TV, Bobby Nair from NDTV and Rajesh Diwakar from CNBC, along with our camera units, visited the school where a PTA meeting was held. The local MLA and Congress leader Prathapavarma Thampan was present in the meeting. Instead of solving the problem, the MLA worsened the situation and declared that children will not be allowed to continue in the school for any reason. He said the disease would spread to other students. Parents stood together. We covered the entire meeting.

Later, we approached the MLA to try to change his mind. Alas, he did not yield. We went to the house of Benson and Benzie. The condition was pathetic. No medicine, no food, mounting debts and ostracism from the locals. Two children staring at death. Helpless. We shot it and headed back to Thiruvananthapuram. All the channels aired the news. It aroused the conscience of the community.

AK Antony was the Chief Minister of Kerala during that time. Roy Mathew and I got in touch with him. Children and families requested a visit to the chief minister. He agreed. So, along with Benson, Benzie, Roy Mathew, I and Rajesh Diwakar reached the chamber of the Chief Minister.

obituaryAs Roy Mathew moved the kids near the chief minister’s chair, Antony suddenly got up from his seat and kept a distance from the kids and moved away. The chief minister did not bother to touch or comfort the children. We left the place. Roy Mathew contacted Hindustan Latex professional Lalu Joseph to inquire if the company could extend support to Benson and Benzie. Lalu informed us that Union Health Minister Sushma Swaraj was visiting Hindustan Latex the following day and he assured me to bring this issue to the notice of the minister.

As Lalu had taken up the matter with Sushma Swaraj, she readily agreed to take necessary steps for their treatment. The next day, Sushma Swaraj was in the press club to address journalists. We introduced the children to the minister.

Sushma Swaraj hugged Benson and Benzie tightly and kissed on their foreheads. The children must have felt the motherly affection for a moment. She concluded the press meet only after declaring the assistance to Benson and Benzie.

Translated from this post on Facebook