Battling AIDS stigma with courage

Taluk Panchayat President M Chikkamahadevu speaking at an interaction in Chamarajanagar on Friday. DH PHOTO

Doomed as Ravindra (name changed for legal reasons) felt after learning that he had contracted the deadly virus, the worst was yet to come. He sank into depression after his brother went door-to-door whispering into people’s ears of his sibling’s killer disease.

The man, who has to support a wife and two sons, is now being treated no better than a pariah dog. He has been shunned by friends and relatives alike. People in the locality where he lives have stopped visiting his house and even his wife and children are kept at arm’s length.

The people of Nagavalli in Chamrajanagar are aware of AIDS and the HIV virus. But what they are unaware of, and which is reflected in the manner in which they have shunned Ravindra, is that the HIV virus is not transmitted by human contact.

Ravindra’s story was narrated at an interaction between some HIV infected patients and students of various colleges as part of a larger objective of creating and disseminating awareness among rural folks. The event was organised by the Chamarjanagar AIDS Control Unit and the Chaitanya Network, in collaboration with other non-government organisations.

The heart-rending stories of the sub-human treatment meted out to some of the AIDS patients moved the people attending the event to tears. A woman from Hebburu, Nalini (name changed to conceal her identity), said when her husband, who was also HIV positive, passed away no one from her village offered any help, much less take part in her husband’s last rites.

Nalini admitted that such were the depths of her depression that she even contemplated suicide, but pulled herself from the brink because of her minor son. She subsequently joined a local NGO involved in spreading awareness, Chaitanya Network, whose activists supported her ably and could instill confidence in her.

Eager to learn more about AIDS and how the patients coped with the disease and the stigma associated with it, several of the assembled students asked pointed questions which were answered candidly.

One of the most common refrains of some of the patients was that the stigma and myths associated with the disease sap their energies, preventing them from attending to their daily duties and chores and driving them to the depths of depression.

 Some of the infected women, who were bold enough to take the stage, responded to the questions, stressing the importance of safe sex, a message which the youth must not shy away from spreading. A few suggested that the government could consider supporting HIV infected financially.

Earlier, Taluk Panchayat president M Chikkamahadevu inaugurated the programme. District AIDS Control Unit officer Dr Mahadev and others were present.

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