| A rally on World AIDS Day in Kalimpong. Picture by Chinlop Fudong Lepcha
Siliguri, Dec. 1: The bandh did not come in the way, nor did inhibitions, as youngsters between 13 and 18 interacted, for the first time, with HIV positive persons here on World AIDS Day today.
The questions flowed from curious minds. “How did you get to know you were infected' How does one understand when one is infected' Were you distanced by your family/neighbours' Did you hate your husband when you learnt that he was infected and had infected you'...”
The queries were ably answered by a group of five positive persons, affiliated to Sangobaddho and the West Bengal Voluntary Health Association (WBVHA). The answers came from hardened people who have not only come to terms with their status but have also realised that they play a key role in spreading awareness against AIDS.
“We have become infected by either of the four ways of transmission. For each of us, the day we were told of our blood test results at the voluntary counselling and testing centre at North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, seemed like the day we died,” said Saraswati Devi, the president of Sangobaddho. “But, with counselling and, most of all, help from relatives and friends, we have come back from the verge of suicide to take life in our stride.”
According to the positive persons, in most cases, the need for an HIV test comes when the usual treatment for a common disease does not work. “In cases of married people, the testing centre counsellors advise that the spouses also get examined,” said Saraswati Devi.
The questions kept coming as the schoolchildren sought assurances from experts. The technical questions were answered by Tarun Maity, the project manager of WBVHA. “If there is an ulcer in either of the partner’s mouths, deep kissing should be avoided. And why are you thinking about relationships now' Focus on studies … you will have enough time for safe relationships later,” Maity said.
The interface was part of a series of programmes held today, each of which had a good response despite the 12-hour bandh. Five stalls were put up at busy intersections by NGOs like Cini (north Bengal), Bhoruka and World Vision.
Member, mayor in council (health), Shalini Dalmia kicked off a signature campaign at Airview More here, where passers-by pledged to “Stop AIDS and keep the promise”. By evening, over 350 signatures crammed the 15 ftx3 ft banner.