Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stigma, Fear or Both?



Few days ago, I had written about AIDS Sutra (2008) - an anthology of stories on AIDS in India. Here are excerpts from “Hello Darling,” a short story by Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi. These are essential pieces from Siddharth’s narrative, which I chose for their realistic and documentary content. Of course, the actual story is bigger and more intricate.

On the need for awareness of dealing with long-term HIV- positive individuals:
“(In India) there’s a big NGO/medical structure built around (HIV-AIDS) prevention and testing, and, to some extent, giving first line treatment. But I think the awareness of dealing with long-term positive patients, and all that implies – for example, how to treat them for other opportunistic infections, or surgery that is not necessarily related to their HIV, but is affected by their being poz –is much less here. I certainly know people who have, quite recently, decided to move abroad, and their being poz was very much a factor in their decision.” (2008:68)
On the loathing for lepers and those with HIV:
Homosexual men with HIV have to combat not only the stigma that attends to their sexual origins, but also their health condition, yet another bridge to have to cross. The disgrace shrouding HIV in India provokes menacing acts of hatred, reserved, in another era, for lepers; and the self-loathing it encourages in the individual is often only a reflection and elaboration of the loathing that society fosters for HIV.” (2008:68)
On stigma, fear and the complex intermingling of the two:
“(…) At ‘bug-parties’ in America, positive men called ‘gift givers’ would bareback – have unprotected sex – with ‘bug chasers’, men who desired to be HIV positive only so that they could finally overcome the constant threat, and terrible doom, of possible infection.” (2008:70)

Each of the above discusses the complex physiological and psychological dimension central to the global AIDS epidemic. It is concerning then to read of AIDS as a manageable disease and HIV as less a threat to survival. I believe there is so much work that needs to be done at all levels – efforts that address not just human sexual health but also the associated stigma, for the two remain interwoven in complicated ways.

India poses a special challenge or should I say a scarier challenge that takes us back in time to the phobia prevalent in the 1980s here in the USA or the dangers endemic to the then social conditions in East Africa. Bigotry and prejudice is rampant in Indian society and barring few, most in the Government too are unwilling to wake up and come-out of their self-constructed caves of ignorance. Stifling laws of the Victorian era are still looked-upon as saviors of Indian morality (whatever that meant). I think it may help to magnify societal ignorance and bring it to world attention. And this book does precisely that and more.

Italicized excerpts from the book: Akhavi, N ed. (2008) AIDS Sutra - Untold Stories From India. NY: Anchor Books.

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About This Blog

This blog is built around what I refer to as the socio-sexual debate, meaning the simultaneously coexisting conditions of human society and human sexuality in a constant state of inner conflict and pressing debate. To read more, click here.

Opinion Matters

"There is a way of discussing sexuality without using labels" (Mika* in an interview with Shana Naomi Krochmal, OUT, 2008-01-28).

*Mika is a London-based singer-songwriter.

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