Monday, November 20, 2006

conference on hiv stigma

the 3rd international interfaith conference on hiv/aids was held this weekend. i had attended it, since i was told that the topic was stigma and discrimination. although i walked out in disgust after about half a day, i must say it was a unique experience!

the venue was crowded with saffron- and white – clad men and women. they came from diverse faiths – zoroastrianism, hinduism, islam, jainism, christianity. the inaugural function however, also had people from the government aids control society. supriya sahu (whom i consider the only good feature of the program!) from tansacs, ashok kumar - the apsacs project director, and the union health minister – anbumani ramadoss – had come.

the minister spoke fluently about how the government was shifting from abstinence advocacy to safe sex advocacy, and touched on particular states and their success or failure in dealing with health challenges. the one jarring note in his speech was when he described the fait accompli in checking polio (until 2005) as solely the work of the government, and then demanded the faith based organisations’ help in starting the trench work for hiv. the government seemed to be quickly taking credit for work done, but enlisting other people for doing the work. quite a few people took grave exception to the minister’s suggesting that they advocate safe sex, and several said so later, but no one took him up then.

the apsacs director’s speech was a better example of the rest of the conference. we heard about how they had created and aired a serial on the subject of hiv stigma and related issues, since
“women folk and the general public tend to love whatever soap operas come on TV”.
his implied contempt of women’s intelligence was unaffected by the asha mitra program that he proudly announced, where women were trained to go out and spread awareness about HIV. he also made a wonderful statement :
“women be bold [sic] to say no to sex without condoms”.
thus neatly shifting the blame on to the victims’ shoulders. the reality is that most women in india do not have negotiating rights especially where sexual relations are considered. amongst prostitutes additionally, there’s a very sharp survival threat: i’ve heard firsthand that clients offer to pay upto 300/400 rupees more if the woman is willing to have sex without a condom. now who’s abusing their negotiating power again? convenient!

after the inaugural session was the technical session. where sadly, not one person actually spoke about the spread of the virus or how it worked – education which most of the faith based organisation (fbo) representatives were desperately in need of. still, a doctor from apac made a good presentation about how fbos were important in the fight against stigma and discrimination in hiv and how they could help.

in the morning, the fbos were relatively harmless. after lunch was when i lost my temper. the worst sort of attitudes were pronounced, and totally sweeping condemnatory statements made. gems included:

  • a call for scrapping of legal age of marriage
  • a call for capital punishment
  • stigmatizing hiv infected people as being morally bankrupt
  • declaring that hiv infected people had given in to improper thoughts, deeds and words and thus deserved their (god-given) fates

oh, did I mention Gandhi was declared a great man for having “made his wife clean toilets”?

it was a an hour of the most vicious, ignorant, intolerant and rambling nonsense that i have ever heard in a while. if all that these people had learnt from their assorted faiths was to be so hard, and so condemnatory, i must say, i would rather rot in hell than ever come under any of their influences.

they were quite liberal with their venom. they disdained to speak much about hiv(!) but focused more on the shortcomings of youth. and what things they had to say! – i do fervently hope that not too many of them actually have children. one wondered if they were going to any minute take off to schools and colleges with automatic rifles.

if any group of people ever highlighted the need for awareness and a social conscience, it was that gathering. if any people ever emphasized the hypocrisy of our society that acts holier than thou and seeks to hold victimized people responsible for their injuries, it was them.

a friend and i had gone together, and were all set to explode as soon as the open forum was declared at the end of the session. but quite prudently, the organizers decided that there would be no such opportunity. (must have realized just how terrible the session had been). so we both stood up and walked out in disgust, tore up the registration forms and left.

i offer my sincere apologies and great big hug to the hiv positive people who were in that room and listening to all this crap the whole day. im sorry that i didn’t do more.* im ashamed of our attitude and ignorance.

*a personal aside follows.

feminist issues



Blogger the wannabe indian punkster said...

Ah yes. Since the pitfalls of youth include 'hormonal misbehavior' we just cant control ourselves you know?

Pretty convenient (and a tad cowardly), on part of the organizers to scrap the open forums after the sessions. It avoids rational discussion, see?

11:45 am  
Blogger Falstaff said...

And I suppose since AIDS is god's punishment for these depraved ways preventing it would be going against His will?

This is why it's important to have the word "prevention" in the topic for any conference on HIV / AIDS. That way you avoid getting people who don't understand that you're AGAINST it.

On a more nit-picky note - it's either "the most vicious, ignorant, intolerant and rambling nonsense that i have ever heard" or the most v., i., i. and r. n. you've heard "in a while". It can't really be both.

8:10 pm  
Blogger Krish said...

It is really disgusting to read such utterances...sure we do need change in attitude of these people before they can go and change the world...I am afraid what would these people change the world to, when they themselves hold such rotten beliefs!! I am ashamed too of such attitude.

8:56 pm  
Blogger m. said...

the wannabe indian punkster: i saw :)

falstaff: prevention was last year's theme evidently. i thought stigma was a good subject. and ouch. i first said "ever" and then realised i had heard tripe like that before. sloppy of me. fankoo.

krish: im wary of junta trying to Save / Change The World. most of em have dubya equations: youre with us or against us. sheesh.

10:04 pm  
Anonymous Pink Panther said...

Your first post that is neither naive and uncomprehending nor offensively feminist.

11:32 pm  
Anonymous Pink Panther said...

One query. What is your profession?

11:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Huh? Can't believe people actually hold such appalling views... gosh.. I'm speechless (which rarely happens).

10:54 am  
Blogger oof ya! said...

"offensively feminist"
what IS that?

11:20 pm  
Blogger m. said...

pink panther: unmanned, im sure. and my profession is something id rather not discuss here.

daddy's girl: hi. welcome here.

oof ya!: hey.

8:42 am  
Anonymous schizo said...

"declaring that hiv infected people had given in to improper thoughts, deeds and words and thus deserved their (god-given) fates"

You are saying that some speaker in the conference held this view?

That is strange because many of the organizations working among HIV/AIDS affected are religious.

Confession: Some time ago in the opd one of my patients was a truck driver who was in advanced AIDS, he had infected his wife and their unborn child. seeing the agony the wife had to go through I really really wished the guy had better control.

If the AIDS was gods punishment on him, what did the child or the mother do.

2:22 am  
Blogger Sriharsha Salagrama said...

ummmm... if I may ask... where is the personal aside? It has not been brushed aside, one hopes.

8:39 am  

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