Very few in India can stomach the idea of disclosing their HIV positive status.
In fact, even the law prohibits the disclosure of HIV status of any person. Yet, Mahesh Parmar, from Gujarat state, is one of these few.
This happens to be the first time that HIV-affected persons have come out in public, in front of thousands.
United under the Gujarat State Network of Positive People (GSNP+), and its Ahmedabad unit, two HIV positive people hit the grounds of the YMCA Club on the Sarkej-Gandhinagar highway.
Their mission: to meet revelers in person, warn them about the deadly virus as well as create awareness that HIV is no death warrant. The HIV positives are expected to interact with revelers all the nine nights, while creating awareness about AIDS.
The first question they are usually asked is how long they will live. Says Manoj Parmar, an HIV positive:"I tell them that my life is as uncertain or certain as a normal person's is. People still believe that HIV virus is the death warrant. But an HIV positive person can live an active life, if provided with the right kind of medical and social support".
During his visits to such venues, Manoj also shares with the youth that he recently married an HIV positive woman and lives a happy married life with his wife and a seven-year-old child.
"Youngsters are shocked when I tell them that I am HIV positive. I want to tell them that we are normal people like them. There is no reason to be secretive if one has contracted the virus. Integration of HIV positives into the society is a must," stresses Manoj.
Mahesh supports him:" People still do not know the difference between HIV and AIDS. We tell them how we have known HIV positive people who have lived for over 20 years with the virus."
Jitendra Maharaj of Ahmedabad Network of Positive People is pleased with the results of the initiative. "It was a big step for the HIV positives to go out and face the people. We are doing this so that the youth can safeguard themselves against the virus", he says.
Meanwhile in Bijapur, Karnataka, HIV/AIDS-affected persons, under the banner of the Bijapur Network of HIV/AIDS Positive People, took out a march to the district headquarters here on Monday. They submitted a charter of demands to Deputy Commissioner V.B. Patil.
President of the organization Manohar, as well as other office-bearers said that HIV/AIDS affected persons were suffering more from the social stigma than the disease. They added that HIV/AIDS-affected persons were being meted out shabby treatment in most of the hospitals.
The organization members urged Mr. Patil to convene a meeting of doctors and issue them necessary directives so that such incidents do not occur again. They also pointed out that children of HIV/AIDS-affected persons were being humiliated in schools. The memorandum also calls for special ration cards and a monthly honorarium on the lines of schemes for the aged, the disabled and widows.
The office bearers also insisted that appeals by HIV/AIDS-affected persons must be considered special cases while extending financial assistance under self-employment schemes.