Golfers unite hands to help the paramilitary Assam Rifles combat HIV/AIDS in the region. India, next only to South Africa leads the march when it comes to HIV infections. The threat looms large over the north eastern parts of the country, particularly over Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Tripura - has been declared as one of the country's high-risk zones.
The idea to host the golf tournament to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS assumes significance as army and paramilitary authorities in the northeast confirm that scores of soldiers deployed in the region were struck by the disease with promiscuous sex attributed as the main reason for contracting the deadly virus. More than 40 Assam Rifles troopers have died of AIDS and 139 are affected with the disease.
"We are taking the war to the community level. This is the only way we can corner the virus (HIV) and exterminate it," Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh, director general of Assam Rifles, said in Meghalaya's capital Shillong.
The decision has been arrived at following the inauguration of the five-day Amby Valley PGAI Tour at the golf course in Shillong. Some of the golfers have even committed to giving a percentage of the tournament's total prize money of Rs.1 million towards battling the killer epidemic in India's northeast.
"You can't get HIV/AIDS by shaking hands" and "Sportsmen against HIV/AIDS" are the slogans for the tournament that is being organized jointly by the Assam Rifles Custodian Officers Golf Club and the Amby Valley PGAI Tour.
The Assam Rifles is a paramilitary force engaged in countering insurgency in the northeast that is home to 30-odd rebel armies waging separate bush wars for carving independent homelands or fighting for autonomy.
The role played by sports personalities in spreading awareness is vital as they have a capacity to demolish the walls of stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV simply by shaking their hands, involving them in sports events, and raising mass awareness.