For a day, Rudraiah Mathapathi, 26, is the most important man in Ingalgi village in Bagalkot. His claim to fame: playing host to one of the most important men in the state, HD Kumaraswamy.
The chief minister spent Tuesday night in the home of Rudraiah and his wife Shobha, both of whom are HIV-positive. The objective was to end the stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS. “I have come here to give moral support to families infected and affected by HIV. No one has the right to discriminate,” said Kumaraswamy, who spent the night on a mattress on the floor of the two-roomed home.
Ingalgi caught Kumaraswamy's attention because of the hard work put in by its Village Health Committee. Through its efforts, the 25 HIV-positive people who live here face no stigma. But it was not always so. “We also shunned our positive people initially but now they are one of us. I think that alone keeps them well,” says committee president Basavaraj Kori, adding: “It is not AIDS that kills people but the heartbreak that comes from rejection.”
Shobha found out she was HIV-positive when she went to the hospital to deliver her baby. “The doctors did some tests and asked for my husband. He tested positive too. They gave me and my baby medicine to stop the virus from being transferred. My baby is HIV-negative,” she says.
Shobha says she and Rudraiah feel no different from how they did before they discovered they were positive. The absence of stigma is evident in the fact that her kitchen is crowded with friends and family helping her cook for the chief minister.
The benefits of Kumaraswamy’s visit are already visible in the Mathapati home: a fresh coat of whitewash, a new water tank and pukka toilet. But the family wants more. “Right now, we are well. But we worry about what will happen to our son after we are gone. I hope the chief minister will help,” says Rudraiah.
Almost five lakh of the country’s 57 lakh HIV/AIDS cases come from Karnataka. After Belgaum district, Bagalkot has the second highest incidence of HIV in the state with 2.9 per cent of its population HIV-positive.