A young boy fled from home at 13 and became a woman at 28. At 34, she was the third Indian resident to be recognized as HIV+ and today she stands as a beacon of hope for more than 200 HIV+ children who have been disowned by their families. She’s a mother ‘Amma’ to them.
Talking about her foundation, she says, “Selvi, Indira and Pazhani, they were three of my close friends who succumbed to AIDS. SIP stands in their memory.” Noori Saleem is the matriarch of the SIP memorial foundation.
Her mother passed away when she was four and her father remarried very soon. The lady that he wedded didn’t treat her well. “I was always known to be effeminate by people around me and boys in school would tease me, calling me ‘pretty like a woman’. I found that comforting because I liked being desired on some level but what I did not like was when friends of my father would tell him to kill me for my mannerisms,” Nooriji said with tear-filled eyes as she spoke to the IT News journalist.
She revealed that she was threatened of murder and taunts forced her father to beat her supported by his wife. Thus, leaving everything behind, Nooriji ran away when she was 13. She preferred life on streets and begging to her home and on arriving at Chennai, she took up a job of a domestic helper where she worked for 3 years straight. She returned home only on her father’s illness death and left again with few items to Mumbai. There, after initial difficulties of language, Noorji met Pattama, a fellow transgender and she started living and earning with them. Here she met with the love of her life and returned to Chennai with him and 40,000 INR that she had saved over the years.
In Chennai, she transformed to a woman with the help of Bahuchara Mata and became Noori Saleem from Noori Mohammad. As she survived the painful operation without anesthesia, she joined the sex trade with little to no option. It’s the only line of income open to transgenders.
On July 22, 1987, she was tested positive for HIV along with 6 others. As per her doctor, she had just two years to live. At this time, she had already adopted two abandoned children. But her will won over her weakness and she met Dr Usha Raghavan who encourages her to join as an outreach worker in the Community Action Network.
She said, “If I could not safeguard myself against HIV, it did not mean I could not help others. I would provide people with condoms and educate them on STDs and HIV/ AIDS.” This was the most befitting reply to those who discriminated against her.
Currently, Noorji has been running the South Indian Positive (SIP) Network for 17 years and today it houses 200 plus children. Several of them are HIV+ and she nurses them. Her children return with their families to meet her and their children call Noorji their grandmother!