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Nepali migrants fight AIDS, discrimination in India

By:  Tupaki Desk   |   9 July 2013 7:56 AM GMT
Raman Thapa (name changed) came to Delhi some 15 years ago. Alone and lonely in an alien city, he soon started visiting a brothel. After some time, he noticed non-itchy skin ulcers in his body and on visiting a doctor got the shock of his life when told he was suffering from a sexually transmitted disease.

Maya Gurung was all of 21 and a shy young bride when she came from Nepal to join her husband in Delhi. The next few years were a tremendous challenge for her. She faced discrimination at work and in her working-class neighbourhood in south Delhi's Kapashera area primarily because of her migrant status. The situation was so bad that Maya was not even able to get basic healthcare facilities.

These are some of the common stories poor migrants from Nepal, and possibly from Bangladesh, narrate when they come in through the porous border to stay in big Indian cities like Delhi or Mumbai in the hope of a better future. Migrants usually face multiple challenges but often find themselves at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid with no healthcare or other support systems..

Giving people like Thapa and Gurung a sense of belonging and identity is NGO Care and the Modi Life Foundation, which through its EMPHASIS (Enhancing Mobile Population's Access to HIV/AIDS, Services, Information and Support) project has been working for the Nepali migrant population.

The project helped the migrants become part of a growing community that has now started working for each other's welfare. But its main agenda remains issues plaguing migrant communities, including HIV/AIDS.

As most of the migrants come to India via Banbasa in Uttarakhand and Gaurifanta in Uttar Pradesh and the destinations are usually Delhi and Mumbai, EMPHASIS has its project offices at the transit and destination points. At these points, the NGO interacts with the migrants and educates them about the dreaded disease that has affected over 2.5 to 3 million people in India.

EMPHASIS engages with over 100 partners and stakeholders and 700 peer educators in reducing the vulnerability of HIV/AIDS among the cross-border migrants that come to India from Nepal and Bangladesh.

But this is not the only role it plays. Over time, it has emerged as a strong platform for migrants to come together as a community and address all issues bothering them.

The change is visible.

Ten years down the line, Gurung's life has changed. She is now a strong and confident woman working passionately for the cause of her community, educating them among other things on the perils of HIV/AIDS.

She and her husband Naveen Gurung are now part of the 5,000-strong Nepali community in Kapashera on the capital's outskirts - where most of the houses are cheek-by-jowl - which has come together as part of the EMPHASIS initiative. In just four years, the Kapashera area has become a home away from home for the Nepalese, where they celebrate their own customs, traditions and festivals - as one.

But addressing the health issues of the Nepali community remains the topmost priority for EMPHASIS.

Giving an example, Milan Thapa, 26, another Nepali migrant, told IANS: "Recently one of our neighbours was pregnant and the family did not take her to a hospital. We forced her to go for a pre-natal check-up and when the time came for delivery, we got her admitted to the Safdarjung Hospital."

"We even intervene in domestic fights, besides giving them (the migrants) details of government schemes that they can benefit from," Thapa told IANS.

It is not that men are not part of this initiative. A Unity of Nepal youth association organises major functions during Diwali, Dusshera and other festivals at which people from other communities also join in.

Mamta Behra, partnership coordinator with EMPHASIS in Delhi, told IANS: "We try to go to the micro-level for every community as the issues are different between various communities."

In the NCR region, EMPHASIS, which simultaneously launched the project in Bangladesh, India and Nepal four years ago, is running offices in Gurgaon, Naraina and a couple of places in east Delhi.

Rashmi Singh, executive director of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, told IANS: "Our campaign is to ensure the security and dignity of the migrants."

"We cannot work on healthcare in isolation. For the benefit of the immigrants, NGOs must enable them open bank accounts, facilitate micro-credit support, form self-help groups and provide education for their children, among others," she said.