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An AIDS narrative

Sep 10, 2008

AIDS Sutra: Untold stories from India is a unique anthology where sixteen of India’s best known writers go on the road to uncover the country’s AIDS epidemic. The book presents a gripping picture of victims’ experiences shrouded in stigma and denial.

AIDS Sutra: Untold stories from India

Edited by: Negar Akhavi
Publisher: Random House, 2008

HIV/AIDS, which has become international and philanthropic focus of the NGOs, is both a physical illness and an index of social attitudes. It arrived in the last decades of the 20th century and has ever since provoked powerful responses and sweeping claims.

AIDS sutra.jpg

Activists, some scientists, and even the CIA predicted that it would ravage entire populations and continents.

Religious zealots understood it as a divine visitation on the ungodly. Social reformists asserted that its cure might be a key to ending global poverty, unshackling the potentials of the developing world.

These "untold stories from India" humanise the tragedy, telling stories of sex workers, truck drivers, victims of contaminated blood, hijras (transvestites), devadasis (women who "serve" Hindu temples), and others bearing the brunt of stigma and discrimination.

This collection of essays, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, brings together 16 writers, young and old, starry and less well-known, to explore the subterranean and often suppressed worlds of Indian HIV and AIDS sufferers—worlds that are sometimes quite closely linked to the realms that ‘normal, healthy’ Indians believe themselves to inhabit.

William Dalrymple meets the devadasis, many of whom have become victims of HIV; Kiran Desai goes to meet the coveted sex workers of coastal Andhra; Sunil Ganguly returns to his old haunt, Sonagachhi; Salman Rushdie spends a day with the hijras of Bombay; Sonia Faleiro looks at the destructive nexus between the police and sex workers; and Shobhaa De writes about when AIDS came home.

The book succeeds because it is not sentimental: the writers respect the victims, admire their courage.

Amartya Sen's thoughtful introduction shows the injustice committed not only through prejudice, but in the myopia of a law which continues to criminalise homosexuality.

A prevalent view about HIV/AIDS is that it is caused by the sufferers’ own choices, yet what these stories reveal is how few the choices are.

Most of the people in these pages acquire the disease while trying to survive by doing whatever necessary, including hiring out their own bodies. Some were forced into high-risk professions as children.

But perhaps the most common response to HIV/AIDS in India has been that of denial—by governments, communities, families and individuals. Like leprosy in the past, AIDS is a perceptual, ideological disease as much as a physical one. And perceptions of it are shadowed by fear born of ignorance.

These writers give the lie to Stalin's dictum that many deaths are a mere statistic. The whole, as always, is but the sum of the parts.

Source : Outlook
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