Ace filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj, few years back, made a mini feature film (not exactly a short film) starring Siddharth, Pawan Malhotra, Pankaj Kapoor and Ayesha Takia. The film was on HIV and how a person boldly fights the disease.
Initially, in the film it was shown that Siddharth’s life gets miserable when he finds out that he was HIV positive. But in due course of time, he discovers that he was not HIV positive but another man with a name same like his was actually the real infected one. And when Siddharth goes to the second man, Pawan Malhotra, to reveal that he was HIV positive, Siddharth was baffled with the reply he received.
“I am dribbling with life and death and HIV is yet to score a goal against me. HIV might have shortened my life line, but not conquered the spirit. After HIV, I discovered a friend in my wife and angels in my friends. What more can a man ask from life.”
Though it was a movie, but these lines are true to the core. Being HIV positive doesn’t mean that life ends. But in reality, are these lines actually applied in? How many of the HIV infected persons do actually find angel like friends, standing by them no matter what? The social taboo linked with HIV is so deep and so strong that in most cases a HIV infected dies a tragic death, unknown and unheard and socially forbidden.
“Even today, being HIV positive is somewhat like being an untouchable in the British era. Even though we have reached the Mars, some basic misconceptions regarding HIV/AIDS still exist,” said Dr S Bora (name changed), a Guwahati-based medical practitioner who himself is HIV positive.
“When I tested positive for HIV, a number of my colleagues from the medical fraternity raised their eyebrows and questioned me with their looks. The female colleagues began maintaining distance from me; few male colleagues seemed to go the same way as well. I did feel dejected and isolated. I had a torrid time in carrying out my duties. I felt, I was doomed,” Bora added with a sigh recalling the horrors of the days when he was tested positive.
“My wife, then my fiancée, stood by me like a rock. I did few mistakes while I was in my MBBS final year and may be then I might have got infected…but it was not the case of unprotected sex, as most of the looks seemed to have questioned me,” Bora said.
It is a general notion that anybody who is HIV positive gets the disease only due to unprotected sex with multiple partners. But in reality, there are a number of other reasons about which we all are well aware of. The society is yet to come in terms with the disease and treat the infected in a normal way.
“A friend of mine when came to know that he was HIV positive, the villagers after a general meeting, asked him to leave the village. His family was given two options- either to remain with the society or to stand by him. The family chose the former and my friend had to leave the village. Unable to bear the pain, he tried to commit suicide. But he was saved and his life took a u-turn. Today he runs an NGO in Ranchi, where he looks after the HIV infected men, women, children and the aged,” reveals Ajay Kumar from Patna, over a Facebook chat while discussing on the issue.
At this point one must thank the Central government and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) for their commendable efforts made for making people aware regarding HIV/AIDS.
HIV ka matlab AIDS nehin; HIV AIDS chooney sey nehin failta; HIV pirit logo sey bhed-bhao kanoonan apradh hain and many more like these are the numerous television and radio advertisements prepared by the government for making people aware on HIV-AIDS.
On December 1, 2007, the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi flagged off the Red Ribbon Express, a seven coach train that became the first train to disseminate information and awareness about HIV/AIDS across the country.
Equipped with innovative and interactive communication devices, the specially designed train covered over 9000 kilometres in its year-long journey across the country, halting at 180 stations for a few days to make sure that its message reached far flung villages. The campaign was especially designed to sensitise the masses about AIDS and issues related to the stigma and discrimination. The objectives included- informing people about the primary preventive services; removing the stigma and overcoming discrimination against people living with AIDS; strengthening people’s knowledge about preventive measures and convincing them to adopt preventive health habits and life-style.
In the fight to aware people about HIV/AIDS and subsequently make them educated on the disease so that people living with it are not discriminated, the Doordarshan also played a vital role towards the late 90s and early 2000s with its series named Jasoos Vijay, where the protagonist even being a HIV positive, tried to educate people on the disease and urged them not to discriminate those who suffer from it.
“Go for a blood test before marriage. It is important than matching the kundalis,” says Jahnabi Goswami, the first woman in NE to declare her HIV positive status, every single time when media asks her about the first step that needs to taken for preventing AIDS. Goswami was infected with the disease from her husband.
Goswami, who hails from Nagaon, was married to a businessman in 1994. But two years after the marriage, her husband died of a mysterious disease. Since it was an arranged marriage, the groom’s background was not checked by her parents. Later it was revealed that her husband died due to AIDS, a fact which her in-laws had concealed.
Disparity didn’t stop there as after her husband’s death, she was thrown out of her in-laws’ house and she was forced to move to her parental home. She was not even allowed to keep her daughter with her. But in 1998, her daughter-Kastorika- also died and she too was infected with the disease.
Shattered after her daughter’s death, Goswami decided to make HIV/AIDS awareness her mission and she joined the Assam State AIDS Control Society (ASACS).
“After joining ASACS I had to shift to Guwahati and after shifting, finding an accommodation was my biggest challenge as the landlords refused to accommodate me a room since I was HIV positive,” recalled Goswami during an interview some years back.
After she was forced to change her residence quite often, the ASCAS allotted her a room inside the Health and Family Welfare Training Centre. In 2003, reading media reports about the harrowing time Goswami had had in finding a room, Assam CM Tarun Gogoi allotted a government flat to her.
Goswami’s crusade has continued for years but has it made any change in the social mindset? Women and girls who test positive to HIV are the worst sufferers.
“My husband, who was into the corporate sector, somehow got infected with the disease. From him the disease spread to me. But after my husband died in an accident last year, I am facing a lot of difficulties in living with dignity. People think I am of loose character and I sleep around with almost everyone. Local boys at times pass such lewd comments that I feel like killing myself. But Jahnabi Goswami’s life gives me the strength to move on and fight on. I have few who have stood by me like a strong pole. My in-laws have been highly supportive, even though they come from a modest rural background,” quotes Swati (name changed) a 33-year-old bank official, whose positive HIV status was known some 13 months back.
As per reports (updated till March 2014), 9110 people in Assam have tested positive for HIV virus with Kamrup (Metro)-specifically Guwahati alone, tops the chart with 3570 cases. Cachar district has 1866 HIV positive patients while Baksa recorded the lowest number of cases with 11.
A question keeps banging my head that even after so much dissemination of knowledge and information about the disease, why do people discriminate? Is it fear or is it something else or is it just the common trend. The answer, somewhat I feel, is criminal enough to put the person on the firing line of AK-56!
“Those infected with HIV/AIDS are actually cursed by the Lord. See, a normal person can never get infected with the disease. They have sinned and they are sinners. How can I rent sinners? People like these should be put in some isolate island and left to die. The government advertisements, campaigns etc are nothing but ways to mint money,” quoted a resident of Tarun Nagar, who denied renting a room to a family of two for they were HIV positive.
It is sad that even in the 21st century, at a time when science has galloped to the outer most part of the galaxy, we are yet to accept the truths of medical science. HIV/AIDS is like any other normal disease and like others, it also need love and care for curing. The government is doing its part, the media too has jumped in and the onus lies on the society at large. Let us join hands and stop discrimination those who are HIV positive. Let’s make life a large celebration!