Nandkumar M Kamat
HIV leading to AIDS is more dangerous than Covid-19. State of Goa has totally failed to remove the stigmatization and invisible social and community ostracization of HIV victims and patients dying with full blown AIDS. Each case once you begin to hear the narrative is like a script of a horror film. You get upset to hear about the last days of such unfortunate victims who die a death worse than sick pet dogs and cats well looked after at their final moments. December 1 is observed as ‘World AIDS Day’.
Typical symbolic events would get good publicity but the cries and curses of the AIDS patients who died lonely death in utter misery would never be heard. There is not much hope on horizon with our heartless, memory and mark-based education system trying to mould a dumb and narcissistic generation dominated by digital and ‘selfie’ addicts. As a microbiology teacher at Goa University I was horrified when I suspended my lectures on this day and tried to involve the students in understanding the seriousness of HIV. Year after year I met various students who were not interested in learning about HIV or AIDS unless they could earn some marks for the same.
A few years ago, I had put a big poster on our departmental notice board along with detailed statistical data from an official report of UN AIDS. It was boldly displayed for more than a week but when I inquired in the class on World AIDS Day, they all admitted that they had not read anything. My heart sank instantly. I had no option but to send them all back to the notice board to read it. It was shameful to watch them hurriedly trying to read everything at the last minute. None of them felt genuinely concerned. But since a demanding teacher like me had imposed World AIDS Day on them they had no choice.
A few students concerned and knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS are exceptions but the majority of local students from the 12-25 age group are still totally illiterate. Such individuals form the core of the society now which has been stigmatizing the known HIV patients. It is the dirtiest face of Goa hidden from the world and even for me it’s very painful to put in words what I heard as true stories with real names and places. Nobody dealing with HIV and AIDS in Goa despite having free flow of funds and resources would dare to intervene and educate the misguided and superstitious relatives, friends and communities, because one needs the sacrificial spirit of blessed Saint Mother Teresa of Kolkata to accomplish such unpleasant and painful tasks.
Even the religious leaders who sermonize a lot on service and sacrifice are scared to go near these badly suffering victims especially when fully blown AIDS hits them. When I met this young person, he was smiling and busy with his work. He was unhappy with his bachelor status and had failed to get a suitable match to get married. He might have had unsatiated libido because things began to go out of control and he didn’t take care with his heterosexual partners.
Unfortunately, the news of his HIV test being positive leaked in the village and then began a real horror story. He had just one old and sick family member to take his care as others left the house out of irrational fears. The neighbours stopped the visits. Luckily the house was not marked or painted as was being done foolishly during the current pandemic. But within months the whole village and almost everyone dealing with the family and this young healthy person quietly kept distance. The religious leaders shed only crocodile tears instead of educating the local community. The elected representatives calculated the loss of votes if they were to help the victim. Within a year after disclosure of his HIV seropositivity the young man who was taking the standard treatment could see where this undeclared social boycott was leading to. It was becoming very difficult for his caretaker to even cook food for him. Then some distant relative took pity and began to send a tiffin. But the tiffin was left outside the house for irrational fear of the delivery boy “getting infected”. This was the situation in a hundred per cent literate and affluent village. It was shocking to see that no state sponsored support system, NGOs, activists came forward to help this unfortunate young person. He could have survived longer with humanitarian support, social understanding and community compassion. But neither the Hindus, nor the Christians or the Muslims in the village came to help him especially when he knew that his health was failing.
Goa is much more concerned about the welfare of stray dogs. We see wealthy people feeding them with pleasure on the streets. But there is no concern for dying HIV patients who are humans and definitely entitled to better care than the stray dogs. This young person began to lose his strength. He couldn’t even perform his daily routines. It is impossible for me to describe his last few painful weeks. His coughing could be heard on the road and in the entire neighbourhood. He developed a lung infection which could not respond to the standard therapy. The news that his death was imminent had spread in the village but not a single compassionate soul except one or two close relatives dared to visit the house occasionally and give some food. Those who visited also had irrational fear of “getting AIDS”. The young person then knew that he had developed fully blown AIDS. He knew that he had no hopes of survival. Imagine the moments before his death and how he suffered alone writhing in pain with his caretaker being weak and sick and needing help. It’s a real heart wrenching story. His cries could be heard in the dead of the night.
Fortunately, the final rites of this victim were performed without any further complications. The people heaved a sigh of relief. The village had got rid of a “plague”. It is impossible to write anything more but I wish that the victim could have written and left behind a diary for opening the eyes of the Goans. I feel ashamed as a human being, an educated senior citizen because this case showed me that we have a very long way to go before we invoke any divinity and offer empty prayers without any practical actions. On December 1, donot wish anyone “Happy World AIDS Day”. Feel sad instead. Very sad.