Walking the HIV+ talk

1. Will you readily accept the admission of some HIV+ children in your child’s school?
2. Will you knowingly and willingly interact with HIV+ persons?
3. Will you knowingly and willingly share a meal with HIV+ persons, using common plates and spoons?

Most of us have probably never faced these situations before. Most of us would probably have to apply a lot of thought before replying truthfully to these questions. Most of us would probably answer, “I’m not sure” to all 3 questions.

Early in July 2014, the parents of children studying in a school in Goa threatened to withdraw their children from the school if the management went ahead with the admission of 13 HIV+ children into the school. For further information, please read this Firstpost report. A few days later, another report stated that the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) of the school had also demanded the removal of 23 non-HIV students because they live in the same Church-run children’s home along with the 13 HIV+ve students, claiming their presence in school too could put the safety of their wards at risk.

On July 31, 2014, while speaking on this subject in the Goa State Assembly, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had “said Goans needed to work overtime to eradicate the stigma surrounding AIDS. He also promised he will eat a meal with HIV+ve students to make a broader point about AIDS and the myths surrounding it.”

Firstpost reports that “while many dismissed Parrikar’s promise as mere rhetoric, the chief minister … made good his word” on August 16, 2014 by “keeping his lunch-date with the inmates of the church-run Nitya Seva Niketan orphanage, several of whom suffer from HIV/AIDS.”

Some highlights from the Firstpost report (all statements by local MLA Subhash Phaldessai):
“All the children there were thrilled to see the chief minister. They were jumping all over him.
All of us used common plates and spoons… We tried to make our visit appear as casual and normal as possible, lest they feel that the Chief Minister was here to meet them because of their condition.”
We did not allow photographers because we did not want the identity of the HIV+ve children be disclosed.
“The Chief Minister assured them all the help possible from the Goa government as well as personally too. He will be sending across a television set as well as some video players and entertainment (games and play-kits).”

Reading or hearing about Mr. Parrikar’s visit to Nitya Seva Niketan would definitely have made many people think deeply about their own attitude to HIV+ people. Probably, some people’s attitudes would have changed to some extent. Unfortunately, the print and electronic media has not given Mr. Parrikar’s visit the kind of coverage that was earlier given to the statements by some of his party’s ministers and MLAs about bikinis, beaches, casinos and that “all Indians in Hindustan are Hindus”.

I wonder why. Is it because negative news brings many more readers/viewers than positive news? Don’t the media have a role to play in bringing about social change?

All citizens are equal!

In my post Speech Disorder or Spinal Problem?, I had said, “All of us grumble in private. Many of us speak strongly to persons who are not in a position to hit back. Very few of us speak up to persons in positions of authority. Why? Do we need speech therapy or spine strengthening exercises?”

Hence, I was naturally delighted to read a report in The Hindu that, when Union Minister K. Chiranjeevi and his family tried to jump the queue at a polling booth at Jubilee Hill Club, a voter, Raja Karthik Ganta, objected. Mr. Chiranjeevi apologised with folded hands. He and his daughter stood in the queue for about 25 minutes before casting their vote. During the melee, however, Mr. Chiranjeevi’s wife and son exercised their franchise. IBN-LIVE reported that Raja Karthik Ganta, a Cambridge-based IT professional who had come all the way from London to cast his vote, later said, “I respect Chiranjeevi. But he is not 65 years of age and he’s not disabled, then why should he be given special treatment?”

I am not sure whether Mr. Chiranjeevi would have apologised and stood in the queue had it not been for the Model Code of Conduct. Politicians in India are notorious for displaying extreme humility during elections and complete arrogance between elections. However, if more “common persons” speak up whenever the occasion arises, politicians will be forced to display humility, if not actually become humble, even between elections.

I must mention that there are quite a few Indian politicians who are genuinely down to earth. A prominent example is Goa Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar. Please do read this report in The Hindu and this blog on IBN-LIVE about his austere ways.