This interview with Mukta Akash Bangladesh, a Kaniz Fathema Peer counsellor from Khulna, Bangladesh is part of the Behind Bars series by Kevin Osborne and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
“I was born in Khulna, a city in Bangladesh. In 2002 my parents arranged my marriage with a guy who had just returned from Saudi Arabia. I was in the second year at college. I was married in June 2002, against my will.
From the first year of our marriage, I noticed that my husband was often unwell. He had frequent fever, aches and stomach trouble. He was not willing to go to a doctor. In 2006 we had a daughter. In the same year he went to India and found out that he was HIV positive.
After he came back he wanted me and my daughter to be tested for HIV. In April 2006, he took me to the Khulna district hospital for an HIV test, and we found out that I was HIV positive. A few days later we found out that my daughter was positive as well.
Once my husband and in laws found out that I was HIV positive their attitude towards me changed.
They started to blame me for everything. My husband started to beat me. Although I have never asked him how I become HIV positive or if he knew before that he was HIV positive. Finally they wanted me out of the family and I returned to my parent’s house. After a few days he (my husband) came to my parent’s house and told the neighbours that I was HIV positive.
Soon my daughter started to become unwell. She was having frequent fever, mouth ulcers and pneumonia.
I took her to the local children’s hospital. I informed the doctor that she was HIV positive. Within minutes the whole hospital knew.
People were coming to see us, as if we were some kind of animal in a cage. Nurses were using gloves all the time. We were hated by everyone.
One day one of the cleaners told me that they were going to burn the beddings once we leave. After hearing this I took my daughter to a private clinic.
In this clinic, once the nurses got to know they started to avoid us. So, the doctor requested that we leave.
He feared that no one will come to his clinic if they heard about us. After returning home, I got in touch with a doctor from India. I used to get ART treatment for my daughter from India.
I started to look for a job but no one was willing to employ me knowing my HIV status.
The situation is really sad. Although I have a job now, I want to break free from this hatred and stigma.
Females are especially criminalised by HIV laws in my country, even considering the social status of women in Bangladesh.
It is breaching our human rights. It is causing spread of HIV/AIDS, and people are not willing to come forward to test because they fear to be criminalized.
I think criminalisation is a disincentive to finding out your HIV status. The criminalization and discrimination that I face are too much to bear.
If one transmits it willingly, then, I think HIV transmission should be a criminal offence. There should be support for HIV positive persons. We need to build more awareness. The number of awareness programs that we are doing is not sufficient at the moment.
Having HIV has changed me.
I used to know nothing about the world. But since I have been struggling for my daughter, I have changed. I know about HIV/AIDS and where to seek help now.
I am humiliated by my status. I hate when people hate me and look at me as if I am something strange.
The rights of people who know their HIV status should be the same as those who don’t. Because they are both human, and a positive person is also a normal human being”.