From the outside, Vimla Devi is just another woman in mofussil India. The slender, talkative 39-year-old is self-reliant, earning just about enough to sustain her family. Her daughter is married and Vimla is already a grandmother. What”s more, this single mother of three is also a ward member in her village panchayat, having been elected unopposed to the post.Vimla at work in her stitching classroomFor Vimla, being a widow in a backwater society alone was reason enough to be socially ostracised. Adding to that was a stigma that ensures discrimination even in urban India”Vimla is HIV-positive.But that hasn”t deterred the HIV-infected widow and her Dibhar village in Bihar”s Gaya district from scripting a story of hope and victory.Vimla has been living with HIV since March 2002 when her husband Amar Dayal, a truck driver in Kolkata, succumbed to a prolonged “mysterious” illness. That was when Vimla, a Class VIII dropout, was diagnosed with the virus. Her youngest son Shakti, 10, also tested positive while Vishal, 16, and Riya, 19, tested negative.Though her in-laws did not discriminate against her, some of Vimla”s relatives did. “My husband”s death left me penniless and totally dependent upon my in-laws. My children were suffering too,” she recalls. It was then that she decided to break out of her despair and start life afresh. She gathered her meagre savings and set up a stitching training centre, the only skill she possessed. Using a poorly ventilated room in the village market, she taught a dozen girls the nuances of stitching clothes. Initially, she gave lessons for free; now she charges Rs 600 per pupil. The coin finally flipped for the better in 2006 when the entire village decided to back Vimla in the panchayat elections. Other women aspirants for the post were asked to withdraw their candidatures. Vimla won unopposed, personifying the extraordinary story of an ordinary woman.Today, Vimla still lives with her in-laws. Her HIV-infected son Shakti studies in the local school as does Vishal, thanks to the villagers who ensured their admission. Despite her suffering, Vimla has no regrets. Her only complaint is against local government authorities, “who have done precious little to ensure village development”. Her village still does not have electricity. For this woman of substance, a new fight has just begun.