Filling empty spaces

Monday, 10 October 2016 Filling empty spaces
Photo courtesy of The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative 

She knew even before the tube light flickered to life. She knew by the way her footsteps echoed hollowly. When dim light finally filled her one-room house, she saw that the room was barren -- that all of her things were gone.

Jyoti* ran next door to ask her husband and mother-in-law what had happened. They were evasive and awkward, refusing to answer her questions. It must have been robbers, they claimed.

Only when Jyoti tracked down her landlord did the truth emerge - her husband and his family had taken everything from her room while she was visiting her mother.

When Jyoti was first diagnosed with HIV, she was already pregnant with her daughter. The government hospital referred her to Shalom, whose workers offer the love of Christ, care, counseling, support and community. Shalom has been the one constant source of comfort to Jyoti since.

Terrified about how her husband would react to the diagnosis, Jyoti begged Shalom staff to give him the news for her. Much to her surprise, his initial reaction seemed to be supportive but she quickly realised his was not the only opinion that counted.

He told his whole family about her diagnosis. As is custom for daughter-in-laws in their culture, Jyoti had been living under her in-laws' roof with their support. Now, however, they were disgusted by her illness and moved her out of the family home into a one-room house next door. It was there she began a life with her newborn daughter.

Now that small house stands empty.

About Shalom

Jyoti is one of millions of “people and places that have been deemed irrelevant and unimportant”, says Karan Dua, Program Manager of Shalom’s Urban Poor Development Project. HIV carries a powerful stigma in Asia.

Those who are diagnosed are often treated as less than human and can begin to believe they are unworthy of better treatment. Shalom seeks to speak out about the intrinsic worth of people like Jyoti. The Urban Poor Development Project of Shalom trains churches to do the same for the marginalised in their neighborhoods.

“God has called Shalom,” writes Karan, “to dream an alternate reality, an alternate future, an alternate lifestyle for the people who are pushed to the margins.”


photo: Paul Cuthbert

At the urging of her friends at Shalom, Jyoti lodged a court case against her in-laws. As the case wound through the court system, Shalom stood alongside her.

The court ruled in Jyoti’s favor. As a consequence of divorcing her, Jyoti’s husband was required to pay back the dowry she had brought to the marriage. Full custody of their daughter was also given to Jyoti. However, Jyoti was direly ill, unemployed, and - unable to care for herself - was living with her mother. Reluctantly, she gave the custody rights of her daughter back to her husband.

Heartbroken, she moved to a smaller house. Over the next three years, she worked steadily to rebuild her life. She found a job, navigated new relationships, and learned how to manage her illness alone. Shalom provided counseling and coaching, listening when Jyoti needed to talk and helping her think through her next steps. Being divorced added another layer of stigma and Jyoti sometimes dreamed about giving up. But the community provided by Shalom’s staff encouraged her to continue working towards her future. She began finding herself braver than she thought she could be.

One day, some case-workers from another NGO suggested Mukesh, who was also HIV positive, might be a be a good match for her. Unmarried women are vulnerable to unique forms of exploitation and oppression in this culture, and the NGO staff hoped a second marriage would provide Jyoti some support and protection. After a brief courtship, Jyoti and Mukesh were married in a simple court ceremony.

But Jyoti’s joy at a second marriage was soon shattered when she discovered Mukesh was unfaithful. She was already pregnant with their son, and their conflict only got worse.

They stayed together until their son, who was HIV negative, was born. But on the day they were driving home from the maternity hospital, Jyoti asked Mukesh to stop for something to eat. “I don’t have any money to get you anything to eat,” he snapped at her.

He always seemed to have money for other women, but never anything for Jyoti. Hurt, Jyoti returned to the small house in which she had begun rebuilding her life. Then she called Shalom.

Shalom entered into Jyoti’s family crisis once more. They prayed with her to create a different ending to this story. Shalom staff helped Jyoti think through how she wanted to respond. They met with Mukesh and explained how much his unfaithfulness to Jyoti hurt their family. His angry response was that Jyoti did not satisfy his needs.

But the Shalom worker asked him one simple question: “How would you feel if a man did this to your daughter?” Mukesh was stunned into silence.

Today, Jyoti prays often for her marriage to Mukesh. She sees changes and believes it is because of the God that Shalom has taught her to pray to. Sometimes Mukesh joins her to pray. They are slowly reconciling. It seems that Jyoti’s life is beginning to fill with good things.


*name changed to protect identity

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