The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It is easy to forget that marriages are also about companionship. This is, or ought to be, the crucial point to a match-making service for HIV-positive people. It is a simple and unconventional idea, although its realization could involve some complex but clear-headed thinking. The pervasive and hideous stigmatization of HIV/AIDS in India is not only a question of medical ignorance, but also of deeply entrenched attitudes to sexual morality. First, not all HIV-positive people have been infected through unsafe sex. Infected needles and blood for transfusion are also common sources of infection. Second, the infected have a very high chance of living nearly normal lives for almost a decade. They are therefore entitled to proper medical attention, as well as all the usual pleasures, comforts and securities of normal life. Their right to get married is certainly one such entitlement, but their HIV-positive status does make it imperative for them to conduct such actions honestly and responsibly. Transparency regarding their condition cannot be completely ensured and enforced. But making the entire negotiation an official and mediated process could actually go a long way in lifting the taboo and ensuring openness.

Yet, counselling will have to play an important role in this process. The enormous risk of passing the infection on to any offspring should make the couples think clearly and ethically about having children. Companionship, mutual support, a normal sexual life and social assimilation are all entirely honourable, and pleasurable, reasons for getting and staying married. But the conventional association of marriage with procreation will have to be carefully thought through. Perhaps it is worth doing such a thinking through for those who are infected and for society in general. HIV/AIDS is beginning to make middle India think and talk about the unthinkable and the unmentionable: alternative sexualities, promiscuity, the distinction between sexual health and sexual morality. It might be salutary for Indian society to think about marriage unconventionally, but responsibly.

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