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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

       
     

Education of the children of the positive people is becoming a problem in Kerala society. This is irrespective of their HIV status. Five such incidents came to our notice within the last one week. The parents are also experiencing ostracism from the society. In two cases, the children are not allowed to continue in the school where there have been studying, though they are negative. In both places the decision came from people's committees. This once again proves that Kerala's high education status has only an instrumental basis which is of technical quality that helps to attain jobs. There is no real quality or value so that the system rejects those who are not fit to its instrumentality. At the same time there are concerned citizens who try to change the attitude of society.

Dr. Gangadharan, a social leader from Parappanangadi wrote to us. "The significance of this case is that even `HIV negative' child of one with `AIDS' suffer due to social ostracism. This can be used by the `control society' for anti-aids activities. But at the same time they should do something for this girl to get admission in a school. We have written to the Director of Kerala State AIDS Control Society. I am reporting the matter to District Collector Muraleedharan with a request to help the girl. But he may say that nothing further could be done at his level because he had ordered all officers like D.E.O., A.E.O., Tehsildar, etc. to be present at the parent-teacher meeting yesterday to plead for admission of the girl. But the officers were overruled by the majority of the `enlightened' parents and teachers!"   

In another case as reported by Mathrubhoomi daily the widow of a positive person is asked to change their residence and the children are not allowed continuing schools including Angan wadi. In a third incidence the positive parents were ostracized from the community for fear of spreading the disease through insect larvae. This led to the suicide of the couple leaving the child with nobody to care. Two other children are facing discrimination in the orphanage and they require education and care.

    



We have seen that in some countries HIV infection opened the space for openness in sexuality matters and asserting the rights of vulnerable people like gays, sex workers, IV drug users etc. Only such countries could control HIV/AIDS effectively and remove stigma from society. In Kerala also we had hope initially. The training programmes were envisaged in such a way that the myths and false moral values were deconstructed. This may be because it was initiated by foreign donor agencies that had international experiences. But when it has grown to a National programme it gradually got absorbed into the system. Now the prudish attitude of Indian society is reflected in all HIV related discourses and trainings. 'No premarital sex or extra marital sex', 'Be faithful to your partner' 'Use condom only if former is not possible'. These ideas are advocated by those who are officially responsible for HIV prevention. May be they are naïve. But if there is somebody who is responsible, they should take care of this. It is the same values which give the "moral spirit" for those who ostracize positive people.

We have to look seriously into the haphazardous manner in which AIDS control programmes are carried out. All of us who work among the vulnerable groups have repeatedly talked about the need for removal of stigma related to sexuality and protection of rights of the vulnerable groups. It is not easy.  But those who are in this field should take care at least not to propagate judgmental values and prescriptive norms. Both the government agencies and NGOs should train their staff members in such a manner that they would be able to take a nonjudgemental position in front of common people even if they themselves have different value orientation. Even doctors are not properly trained in Kerala. Some of them do not keep confidedntiality, give vague answers like HIV can be transmitted through mosquites, and be faithful to your partner and so on. Those who take leadership in HIV prevention activities have got the responsibility to provide value neutral or use values to support the vulnerable. If those who cannot do it voluntarily must turn away from this field, it will be of great help. The confusions can be avoided. The fear, confusion and overreaction from the public can be removed only if they are led by committed leaders.

    



What happened to the initial projects? Before the programmes got institutionalized and systematized what ever minimum initiatives came from committed individuals and communities. Even when funded programmes came, there was dialogue with vulnerable people. As the programmes got systematized, all decisions come from above.  This is a period when NGOs are also getting transformed into Government institutions by 'capacity building' and standardization which take away the spirit of spontaneity they previously had. The community based organizations are side lined by NGOs which do not have much difference from government organizations. Most of the programmes are determined by donor agencies. Funded organizations have to fear the evaluation by the 'programmed' 'experts'. They are forced to postpone their responses to public issues for their commitment to report to the authorities. So, those who are supposed to be with vulnerable people stand for the powerful. The Governments in developing countries just follow U. S. decisions. Every body knows that U. S is taking anti-sexuality minority, anti-women, anti-poor stand that influence the authorities of the poor countries. How to resist this is our challenge, when our government, donor agencies, experts, NGOs and even politicians waver in their standpoints? Who will correct the ignorant people and resist overreaction from public?

Dr.Jayasree A.K.
FIRM, KERALA
E-mail: jayasree@vsnl.com