December Issue 2005
“My husband hid his illness from me…”
Huma Khawar narrates true stories of Pakistani women infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.
Shafqat Nisa, 35
Despair, depression and hopelessness — all this and much more marked the first year of Shafqat Nisa’s husband’s return to Pakistan from Dubai. A crane operator, he had tested HIV-positive and was deported to Pakistan.
When Nisa came to know of her husband’s condition, she started to educate herself about the virus. “I started reading up and seeking information on just about everything related to HIV and AIDS,” says Nisa. Knowing the modes of transmission, she realised that there was the possibility that she might have contracted the disease, so she consulted a doctor. “By the grace of God, all of us tested negative but the doctor advised me to get a divorce as I was only in my late twenties at the time.”
“Ours was a love marriage. We had spent a very happy life together, even though he was 18 years senior to me,” Nisa recalls fondly. Eight years into the marriage, he took up a job in Dubai, while she stayed back in Rawalpindi and enjoyed the luxuries of life with his earnings. “I wore gold sets that matched my outfits, and I could buy anything I fancied,” she hints at her level of prosperity.
All that ended when she learnt of her husband’s illness. She hopped from one doctor to the other, seeking a cure; she spent every penny she had saved on her husband’s treatment, and even sold off her double-storied house and many household items in the process. She rented her brother’s two-bedroom house, but later had to vacate that too, as she was unable to pay the rent.
“My own brothers and sisters have discriminated against me,” says a dejected Nisa. To add to her woes, “people would view us with suspicion. Whenever we stepped out of the house, they used to call us ‘Do (two) number family.’ Our relatives boycotted us socially. We were not invited to weddings and family functions. I had started teaching in a school but was asked to resign when they came to know that my husband had tested HIV-positive,” she recalls.
After his death, Nisa began taking an interest in the lives of people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. “People living with HIV and AIDS are a very sensitive breed. A few words of care and some moments spent with them give them hope and strength,” she speaks from the heart. “I wanted to meet them and console them as I could relate to them. Soon I began counselling sessions at home.”
Little did she know then, how this work would transform her into a ‘Mother Teresa’ of sorts. Today, Shafqat Nisa heads the Rawalpindi branch of the New Light AIDS Society. And she is at peace with herself.
Bibi Gul, 19
“My mother loved me a lot. I was her blue-eyed girl,” says 19-year-old Bibi Gul. Being the youngest of five siblings, she was quite pampered. However, her father never worked and it was difficult for the family to make ends meet, especially as there were eight mouths to feed.
“I had just turned fifteen, when my aunt brought this rishta of a rich man from Saudi Arabia, who wanted to marry a second time. She wanted me to marry into a rich family, and live a comfortable life, never mind that husband-to-be was 30 years older than me or that I was to be his second wife. Of course, we didn’t know anything about his disease,” says Bibi Gul.
Two years after her marriage, Bibi Gul joined her husband in Riyadh. But her rags-to-riches story lasted a mere six months, as Shah Zaman tested HIV positive and was deported to Pakistan. Bibi Gul, at the time, was seven months pregnant. Upon returning home, she learnt that she, too, was HIV positive. Her world turned upside down — she was just 18, and about to give birth to a child, and her husband lay dying.
And that was not all!
A panic-like situation prevailed at the hospital when Bibi Gul arrived to deliver her baby. Everyone was scared — doctors and nurses kept away from her, as if they would contact the virus simply by touch. “We only have one delivery table in the room,” they informed her sheepishly, which was “meant for normal patients.” So, she had to deliver her baby in a corridor.
Two months after Shah Zaman’s death; Bibi Gul and her daughter were kicked out of the house by her in-laws. Bibi Gul is extremely bitter: “When I was being married off, I was not asked if that was what I wanted. I was just told that he was a wealthy man and would give me all the worldly comforts. He kept his part of the bargain as long as he was alive and I was perhaps the happiest person on earth, for he loved me and spoilt me no end, but in the bargain, I got AIDS and the most adorable daughter who unfortunately, has also been tested positive.”
Other than her immediate family, no one knows about Gul’s illness. She turns down the marriage proposals which she gets from time to time: “I know the nature of my disease and can’t risk anyone’s life.” Now her life’s only aim to ensure that her little daughter gets a sound education, that equips her to take care of herself when Bibi Gul is no more.