Noori Saleem has battled two greatest stigmas — being a transperson and having HIV. At 24, she was diagnosed with HIV and became the third person to be officially declared HIV-positive by the Indian government in 1987. But, once she was diagnosed, she made it her life’s mission to create awareness among the public on HIV/AIDS and also to ensure that HIV-affected children get an acceptable standard of living with basic education and healthcare.
Born in Chennai, and orphaned at a very young age, Noori has been taking care of herself since the age of 13. Noori was born Noor Mohammed in Chennai as the second male child in the family. “My childhood wasn’t easy — when I turned 10, I felt that I was a woman trapped in a man’s body. Back then, coming out of the closet wasn’t easy as it is today. I got scared and was unable to handle the gender identity crisis. I ran away from home when I turned 13 and started doing some odd jobs to survive and feed myself before I took up sex work,” says Noori.
Later in 1987, when she found out that she had HIV, Noori was shocked and didn’t know how to lead her life. She met a few social workers and started working with NGOs for social campaigns. “I was shattered when I heard the news but didn’t want to give up on life. I decided to create awareness on HIV and AIDS. With the help of a few like-minded people, I started an NGO called South Indian Positive Network (SIP Trust) that aims at providing help and support to anyone who is affected by HIV,” shares the 68-year-old social activist.
The organisation that was started with one child now has 45 children (between the age group of 5 and 17) who call Noori as Noori amma. “I had a troubled childhood and I don’t want the children to undergo the same ordeal. Nothing is valuable to me more than the well-being of my kids. We provide shelter, food, healthcare and education to all the children. A few children are studying in colleges now. We provide treatment on time and thankfully, all of them are in good health now. I wanted to instill good values in my children and their happiness matters to me the most,” she smiles.
Currently, the SIP home functions from a rented place in Kolathur and Noori wanted to construct their own building for the children. Many had promised her money and help, but Noori says that nothing has materialised so far, apart from a few good Samaritans helping them monetarily every month. To raise money to construct the building, she has started a fundraising campaign in Milaap. “We are unable to accommodate more children in the rented place and wanted to move out from here to a better place with more facilities. The project is halfway through and I wanted to complete the construction in a couple of months,” hopes Noori.