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AIDS in India, through the eyes of litterateurs

india Updated: Aug 12, 2008 15:01 IST

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Shobhaa De, Amit Chaudhuri and William Dalrymple, become investigative reporters? The outcome is they create a gripping picture of AIDS in India - who the killer disease is affecting, how and why.

AIDS Sutra, Untold Stories from India is a ground-breaking anthology by the writers who travel the country to talk to housewives, vigilantes, homosexuals, police and sex-workers and together to bring out an eye-opening, hard-hitting and moving account.

In the book, Rushdie spends a day with Mumbai's transgenders; Dalrymple meets the devadasis (temple women), many of whom are now living with HIV; Kiran Desai travels to the coast of Andhra Pradesh where sex workers are considered the most desirable; Seth tells the real story behind a long-ago poem; De tells how AIDS came home and Chaudhuri talks to doctors who are fighting more than just AIDS.

In his account, Rushdie writes, "The hijras (eunuchs) of Mumbai and the rest of India are held to be the community most at risk of HIV infection. There have been improvements in organisation, outreach, education and self help, but for many hijras, their lives continue to be characterised by mockery, humiliation, stigmatisation, fear and danger...Many hijras are mired in poverty and sickness."

The other writers in this book published by Random House India are Siddhartha Deb, Nikita Lalwani, Nalini Jones, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Jaspreet Singh, Sonia Faleiro, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, CK Lakshmi, Mukul Kesavan and Aman Sethi.

"AIDS Sutra", with a foreword by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and introduction by Bill and Melinda Gates, is published in collaboration with Avahan, the India AIDS initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and sales proceeds will go towards a fund for AIDS orphans.

In his foreword, Sen says that there are crucial economic issues to be addressed in dealing with the AIDS epidemic.

"One of the central ones is the need to devote much more resource to tackling the epidemic - on prevention, on treatment, on care, on rehabilitation, and no less importantly, on education about the disease."

He says the ethics of responsibility has been a big subject in analysing the social aspects of AIDS and so there is a need to take personal responsibility seriously.

"We have to avoid the errors of half understanding as well as those of ignorance. We have to stop blaming the victims and stop looking for reasons leaving them to look after themselves. We are in it together," he suggests.

Expressing surprise over the stigma AIDS is in India, Melinda and Bill Gates write in the introduction: "This kind of stigma is cruel and senseless. There are nearly three million Indians living with HIV today. If we're going to stop AIDS, we have to embrace every one of them - regardless of social class, line of work, or circumstance."

The book says India is home to 5.2 million HIV cases. "But AIDS is still a disease stigmatised and shrouded in denial. It is stigma that prevents people from openly discussing the facts around HIV, and keeps them from getting treatment. Stigma leads to discrimination against HIV positive people in hospitals, schools and even among families," it says.