‘Handle with care’, they are humans too

‘Handle with care’, they are humans too

In December 2003, when Chinmay Dharmesh Modi was 9, his parents discovered that they were suffering from AIDS. It was like a bolt from the blue. The situation became turbulent for Chinmay’s family, whereas he was too young to realise the implications of the disease.

“My mother had a gynaecological problem, and so her doctor referred her for a few medical tests. Everything seemed to be perfect, except the HIV test. The doctor, for his re-confirmation and satisfaction, called my mother for s second time,” Chinmay, now 23, told IANS.

“The doctor later revealed that her HIV Test was positive. Everyone was shocked with the report — later, my father and I, too, were found to be HIV positive,” he added.

Chinmay, young as he was, grew terrified, being unable to understand why everyone who visited them was screaming and crying loudly. He refers to that phase as the worst of his life.

An HIV-infected person can additionally suffer from mental health problems. When one’s immune system is damaged by HIV, some infections tend to easily affect the nervous system.

“Apart from destroying the immunity system of the body, depression is most common among HIV-positive people. It all starts with a sense of disbelief when tested positive and then the patient loses all hope, leading to panic and fear,” Gorav Gupta, Director, Tulasi Healthcare, New Delhi, told IANS.

“Many people living with HIV are at an increased risk of developing mood swings, cognitive or anxiety disorders,” Gupta added.

The consequences of stigma and discrimination against HIV positives are wide-ranging. Some people are shunned by their family and friends, or by their community. Many others face poor treatment in healthcare and educational settings.

Chinmay recalled how he was thrown out of school when the authorities learned that he was HIV positive. But later, due to pressure from an NGO, Gujarat State Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, the school had to take him back.

“Even when I was back to school, I was secluded by my teachers and friends. I used to be all alone most of the time,” Chinmay rued.

“Even the doctors exploited and discriminated against us. My parents, who suffered from weak eyesight, are now blind due to negligence and late treatment by doctors, and it shook me,” he said.

Strong-willed Chinmay, who is now an Executive Member representing Youth and Adolescents living with HIV in the National Coalition of People Living with HIV in India (NCPI+), was also the victim of ex-pulmonary tuberculosis a few years back during his graduation.

“There is a need to create awareness and bust myths to prevent stigmatisation of such individuals as well as their families. We also need to develop an empathetic attitude and offer our support to them,” Samir Parikh, Director, Department Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, told IANS.

Firoz Khan, the NCPI+ National Coordinator, said: “HIV positive people are as normal as others and we are not demanding any special status. The society should treat us with respect and dignity, as it will enable more people to come forward and live a normal life.”

Chinmay, who is currently a professional social worker, has also worked with some big names, including late President A.P.J Abdul Kalam, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the South African Cricket Team and veteran actress Sharmila Tagore. He also represented India at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in Sri Lanka (2007) and Bangladesh (2016).

To remove the social stigma over AIDS, people need to be educated about the myths and actual causes of the disease, Chinmay noted.

“One of the best ways to fight stigma and empower ourselves against HIV is by speaking out openly, honestly and loudly about who we are and what we experience. Doing this will make you feel happy, fresh, healthy and energetic,” Chinmay asserted.

I lived on but many women can’t; so help me stop this: Acid attack survivor

I lived on but many women can’t; so help me stop this: Acid attack survivor

On a hot summer day 11 years ago, 16-year-old Laxmi was passing by the Khan Market bus stand in central Delhi when a spurned lover threw acid on her – leaving her in excruciating pain. After seven surgeries – last one being the most critical – she is a self-reliant woman who took on the pain and social enigma with much grit in all those years.

Mother of a one-year-old daughter, Laxmi is currently working as director of a non-profit Chhanv Foundation. She is also associated with “Stop Acid Attacks” – a campaign that works against acid violence and reach out to acid attack survivors.

“I was 16 when a 32-year-old man threw acid on me because I had refused his proposal. This happened in 2005 while I went to Khan Market for book shopping,” Laxmi told IANS.

“It was frightening and cannot be defined in words. I had to undergo seven tough surgeries, including the most difficult one in 2009 which was never attempted before in India,” Laxmi added.

For her, society plays a major role in curbing social evils and is disappointed at people’s attitudes for not raising enough voices against crime against women.

“Society prepares and even nurtures the conditions for a crime to happen against women. Why should people remain silent until they themselves suffer something odd to realise the agony that others went through? We should all take a stand against crime against women in our society,” Laxmi stressed.

Overcoming the nightmare 11 years ago was not easy for Laxmi. At a point of time, it became very difficult for her to even finish higher secondary education.

“But the incident could not torment my spirit to fight back,” she added. The determination and support from her family motivated her to enroll for senior secondary certificate (SSC) course as well as in advanced computer education.

Against all the psychological and physical torture she suffered, Laxmi says she can not only stand up for her rights but also raise her voice for others too.

Laxmi was honoured with the “International Women of Courage Award” by the US First Lady Michelle Obama in 2014.

“You haven’t thrown acid on my face; you threw it on my dreams. You didn’t have love in your heart; you had acid in it,” she recited the poem in Hindi after receiving the award.

Laxmi is now helping disseminate awareness about acid attack and how to survive it. “We have several campaigns running like ‘Spot of Shame’, ‘Black Rose Campaign’ and have a cafe ‘Sheroes Hangout’ in Agra where five acid attack survivors are working to fend for their families,” she informed.

“We are also happy to see people supporting us wholeheartedly through social networking platforms,” Laxmi told IANS.

Laxmi has made repeated attempts to curb acid sales and gathered nearly 27,000 signatures for a petition to stop the sales of acid in the market.

“Earlier there were no laws regarding the sale of acid but after the public interest litigation (PIL) that I filed, the Supreme Court ordered a ban on open sale and purchase of acid. Unfortunately, acid is still available in the market,” she said.

Apart from being a social activist, she also manages to endorse a clothing brand “Viva & Diva”.

“My family has always been the source of inspiration for me. They have supported me when I was low and motivated me to work for other acid attack survivors as well,” she said.