Stories of struggle, despair and a burning hope of those suffering from AIDS came forth as hundreds of people, some suffering from the disease and others who were there to support them, gathered at a candlelight memorial at the Jantar Mantar here.
The 24th International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day late Sunday saw more than 500 people gathered at the cross roads of the Jantar Mantar, wearing white T-shirts and holding a candles. The third Sunday of May is observed all over the world as a day to pay respect to all those who have lost their lives to AIDS.
One of those present was 27-year-old Bhagwati of Rajasthan.
Dressed in a green salwar with a white T-shirt and sporting a bold imprint of the symbolic red ribbon, Bhagwati was not hesitant to say that she has been HIV positive for the past one year and so is her husband. Nor was she any less confident in saying that the couple has never been more zealous in living life to the fullest as they are now.
Sahil, another HIV affected was also there. "I am HIV positive and have been living life to the fullest for the last four years. Initially, the people around me tried their best to convince me this is it, life is over for me, and I started losing hope. But that is history. I read up all about the disease, spoke to people who knew about AIDS and regained all my lost confidence," he said smiling.
Nafisa Ali, actor and social activist who has been working for the cause for nearly seven years now, was also a part of the campaign. "AIDS doesn't mean the end of life," she told the gathering.
"What I now want you all to fight for is that the second line Anti-Retro Viral Treatment (ARV) should be made free. The first line of treatment has been made free and we are thankful to the government for that, but that should not stop there," she told the cheering crowd.
According to the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), over 74,000 people are receiving free first line ARV treatment across the country and it has been a big relief for HIV/AIDS afflicted ever since it became functional in April 2004.
However, there are some who have become resistant to the first line of medication. In the absence of free second line drugs, their chances of survival are limited.
"The government has said that only when the number of patients who need the second line of treatment reaches the 100,000 mark will the treatment be made free. But our question is that will the virus stop killing people till then? Is it fair that someone should lose his life because the statistics haven't reached the 100,000-mark?" asked Elango Ramachandar, president of Indian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS. Ramachandar is HIV positive.
"The cause here is simple - we support those who are fighting AIDS and will fight for them in getting free second-line ARV treatment," said Parashar Kulkarni, a supporter.
Supported by NGOs such as Action Aid, Centre for Trade and Development (Centad) and Plan International, the event is a part of the Global AIDS Week of Action.
India has 5.1 million HIV/AIDS patients, second only to South Africa, according to NACO figures.