- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

CHENNAI, India — The government in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has begun a probe into the stoning death of a 30-year-old HIV-positive widow after expressions of outrage from AIDS rights campaigners worldwide.

According to Women’s Initiatives (WINS), a private organization working with AIDS victims and prostitutes, Munnuswamy Pavanamma was stoned to death by her relatives and neighbors on July 3 in the village of Kuppam.

“Some neighbors, including her relatives, tried to take Pavanamma out of their colony by carrying away the bench on which she was lying in front of her mud house. When she tried to run away from the scene, the people pelted her with stones,” said Setlur Varadadesikan Sreeram, a senior executive with WINS.

“She was hit on the head, started bleeding from her injury and collapsed to death instantly.”

The incident came to light about a week later, after WINS and other local organizations demanded an inquiry by federal authorities.

According to WINS, the villagers wanted Mrs. Munnuswamy to be thrown out of the village when they learned she had HIV. Pressured by neighbors, her family turned against her; her mother and brother took her out of their house and isolated her in a small mud house at the edge of the community, where the attack occurred.

Pinakapani Manorama, president of the private Community Health Education Society, said that after killing Mrs. Munnuswamy, the neighbors burned her body, the bench on which she had lain and a mango tree beneath which she had rested.

“It exemplifies the level of ignorance of the people and the ostracism the woman faced,” he said. “The government should take severe action against those who erred. It should not be shooed away as a stray incident.”

Naveen Chand, the district police chief, dismissed the reports of the stoning as “totally false” and insisted that the woman had died from her disease. But activists maintained that Mr. Chand was trying to hush up the case to avoid embarrassment.

The director of a clinic who had been counseling Mrs. Munnuswamy for some months said the woman’s mother had admitted to the mob killing.

“She is changing her version now following pressure from officials and police,” he told a newspaper, adding that he, too, had been “warned by local political leaders against speaking the truth.”

Another activist noted that the police initially had recorded the death as a murder.

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