After a long struggle with unemployment and lack of means, 42-year-old Ramesh Bhamre (name changed) has reason to smile again. Bhamre was axed from his job as a bus driver with MSRTC after he was declared HIV-positive last year. Bombay High Court has ordered the transport body to reinstate Bhamre within a week and has stated that a further hearing will decide the compensation he is entitled to.
It is well documented that many HIV-positive people suffer discrimination at work place and in social settings. “My belief in the judicial system has become stronger with this judgment,” an elated Bhamre said. Incidentally, MiD DAY had reported his plight on June 7 last year (‘MSRTC sacks HIV+ driver’), which moved socio-legal activist Asim Sarode, who helped Bhamre file a case. This newspaper’s account talked about how despite orders from the transport minister, the driver was not rehabilitated.
The state transport ministry, MSRTC, Pune division office of the transport corporation and a superintendent at Sassoon hospital were the respondents in the case. “During the arguments in court, we presented the cuttings of MiD DAY’s coverage. In the petition we argued against discrimination, unfair treatment and depriving opportunity on the basis of HIV as a violation of constitutional rights. We are happy that the driver finally got justice and he will join the service soon,” Sarode said.
The order passed by Bombay High Court justices Abhay Oak and Revati Mohite-Dhere stated that ‘removing any person from a job on the basis of the fact that he is living with HIV and AIDS amounts to infringement of right to livelihood of that person’.
Narrating his ordeal, Bhamre said, “I have suffered a lot and even contemplated committing suicide due to depression.” He said that some of his seniors misrepresented him amongst his colleagues who stopped talking and even sharing food with him.
Bhamre, who was detected with HIV in 2008, underwent tests at Sassoon hospital and the report suggested that he avoid doing heavy-duty jobs. However, after 11 years of service with the transport authority, Bhamre was declared unfit for the job on grounds of his health. He was later handed the post of a peon, but was asked to go five days later.
As Bhamre is from an underprivileged background, his son was forced to quit studies and start working as a watchman. Even Bhamre’s wife ended up doing menial jobs to sustain the family’s needs. However, with the latest order from the high court, Bhamre feels optimistic about a secure future for him and his family.
“Apart from the job we are going to demand compensation too. He has not been working since 2011 and his family is going through tremendous economic problems. We think he should be given at least Rs 3.30 lakh as recompense based on his salary at the time of his dismissal,” Sarode added.
No country for HIV+ people
At workplaces in India, there is no law protecting people living with HIV and AIDS. In order to fight against discrimination in the society, the first HIV-AIDS bill was submitted to the central government in 2001, which specified rights of those afflicted with this condition. Since then, many amendments have been made to the bill but it still remains to be passed in parliament. One of the provisions in the bill talks about imprisonment up to seven years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh in cases of discrimination by a person or an organisation. Many NGOs and social activists have been campaigning for the issue by staging protests and sending letters, but to no avail. In this case, the Bombay HC’s decision is based on fundamental right to livelihood and marks an important victory for several others whose cases are languishing in various courts across the country.