"It was a single window house. A small abode for me, my brothers and my parents in a leafy remote village. My freedom there was limited to the level of watching movement of fireflies through the one and only window during night. I had also liberty to experience the soothing effect of moon light through the same window. On many an occasions, I had expected the arrival of god's angels through the same window in search of me...........to provide better fortunes including a caring and religious better half. '
Here an autobiography begins. Autobiography of an unknown housewife from Kerala's northern district of Kasargod. Hailing from an extremely religious family, she never tried to break the shackles of Islamic morality and way of life. She lived happily in the confines of the dingy Pulikoor house in Giribagulu village reading Holy Scriptures and telling women of the surroundings not to deviate from the path prescribed by Prophet Mohammed. She preferred to wear black burqa even during occasional trips to the world outside.
Life was quite normal till the age of 16 when she was forcibly married off to Mohammed, a native of East Puthur in Southern Karnataka. Her brothers, who were eager to get control of the family property of few cents of land and to get married from economically well to do families availing several sovereigns of gold and cash, had found the younger sister as the major hurdle in pursuing their goals. They simply married her off to Mohammed without inquiring about his past history or family background. Mohammed was about 45-year-old at that time. Only on the arrival at husband's house, she realized that the man had held her hand in marriage just as a substitute to the 'original' wife, who already given birth to six children.
There began the tragic turn of events in the life of P.N. Havvabi, who later rechristened her life as a volunteer with Kasargod-based Institute of Applied Dermatology for the welfare of HIV Positive people.
Then what is in common between Havvabi and HIV?
The 31-year-old Muslim lady never heard of HIV/AIDS till the death of Mohammed around five years back following AIDS. The mother of two children was later forced to realize that she also carries viruses of the same killer disease, donated originally by a cruel husband along with daily dose of beatings and forced sexual encounters. Though her days are numbered, Havvabi found new meanings to her remaining days in the ephemeral world by getting trained in anti-AIDS activities and engaging in conducting awareness programmes among vulnerable sections of the society. People were often amused at seeing a woman in burqa distributing pamphlets on HIV/AIDS and condoms among truck drivers and commercial sex workers in Kasargod.
Havvabi has a unique perspective on the killer disease of HIV/AIDS. Though it reduced the length of her life, it had a 'positive' impact on her life by helping her to break the barriers of the orthodoxy to travel free in both Kerala and Karnataka and to interact freely with people of different hues. It was the HIV/AIDS that introduced her to the world outside the confines of the house. It also provided her opportunities to read books and materials dealing with topics other than religion.
"I was used to remain confined to the house. So I had little knowledge about the world outside. My educational pursuits ended at fifth standard in the local madrassa. My level of wisdom was also limited to religious terminologies like 'Khiyamam' day and 'Mashrakaithani.' Now I can move freely outside the house. No strictures against walking across the streets wearing burqa. I can interact with anybody. I have already met several persons who carry HIV/AIDS for no fault of their own. This deadly disease is the sole factor that brought me out of the orthodoxy and helped me to complete the socialization process,' says Havvabi in her forthcoming autobiography in Malayalam.
"The common perception is that only commercial sex workers in the street are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. That is a wrong concept. Look into the situation in Kasargod city. Most of the sex workers here are free from HIV/AIDS. However, a large number of housewives in Kasargod are now getting affected with the killer disease. How these innocent women with greater regard for morality are falling victims to such a danger? Their husbands are the real authorities to answer this vexed question,' declares Havvabi.
On confirmation of presence of HIV/AIDS in her body, the instant thought of Havvabi was to commit suicide. But she retracted from that possibility on thinking of the children, who still remain free from the disease. "I have never done anything wrong in my life. Never deviated from morality and religious values. All the time, I remained faithful to my husband, who was chosen by my parents and brothers. Now, I am facing extreme discrimination from family and neighbors for no fault of mine. Even my hapless children are facing extreme humiliation,' she laments.
"This disease is actually a gift from my legally wedded husband. The same is happening in the case of several other women of Kasargod also. Men are getting the viruses during sex with strangers in cities like Mumbai and Mangalore. I have one humble appeal to parents of girls. Don't marry off your girls to somebody with no credentials. Say a firm no to marriages before the wedding age,' she makes an appeal to all.
Havvabi recalls an evening in which she was interacting with commercial sex workers in Kasargod. A 20-year-old youth approached her mistaking her as yet another sex worker. He instantly invited her for a session offering relatively good economic return. "I am ready to come along with you. But the problem is that you would get an instant incentive of HIV,' was the curt reply of Havvabi. The youth vanished instantly from the spot.
"I never had experienced any sexual pleasure from my husband. He was highly autocratic in bed. Most often, he turned violent after ejaculation. By midnight, he often left my room to share bed with the first wife in another room. As far as I am concerned, sex is a cruel deed without considering any of the feelings of the female partner,' she remembers the days at husband's house.
While this article is going to the press, Havvabi is in a fierce battle between life and death in a Kasargod hospital. A faithful obedient of almost all commandments of God is nearing death because of a wedding gift from the husband. Havvabi says in her autobiography: "Each and every death reminds me of the horrible reality of my final day. I often pray to Allah don't let my 'mayyath' lying orphaned. During the darkness of night, I often awake after seeing weird dreams. I do remember, my countdown already begun.'
(Alapuzha-based Fabian Books is bringing out Havvabi's autobiography in Malayalam 'Havvabi: Oru HIV Badhidayude Athmakatha' soon.)