Shame. Stigma. Discrimination. Rejection. Abandonment. These are the words that should come to mind when you put yourself in the shoes of a person living with HIV in the India of 2015. So much shame, that you’d rather die than go to the detection center where there is medicine available that could literally save your life.
Many of the stories go something like this. A young man from a village moves to the city in hopes of finding a job. He only sees his wife back home once or twice a year and ends up contracting HIV in the city. He doesn’t know this and he keeps going to the doctor for different ailments and infections allowed by his weakened immune system. All his meager income goes on medical treatments but even if a doctor suggests that he get tested for HIV, he instead spends more money on second opinions because neither he nor his family— who followed him to the city by now—can bear the shame of being associated with HIV, this mortifying disease of gay men, prostitutes and drug-addicts. He misses work and struggles to provide for his wife, children and parents who all depend on his daily wages. Eventually he dies and only after his death does it get said out loud that he had AIDS. When all along he could have received medication and lived a longer, productive life! Shame brings fear, destruction and hopelessness. Shame is the enemy of freedom.
A great percentage of people living with HIV are widowed women who must be tested after the hospital finds out that their husbands had AIDS. Khushi is one of these women. She got married at 14 and had three children in the following four years. By the time she and her in-laws followed her husband from Bihar to Delhi, he had probably already contracted HIV. When she was 22, her husband died and she was left alone in the city with three little boys, abandoned by her in-laws, rejected by her community, and unable to return to her parents’ home for the stigma and lack of work opportunity.
Even though going on with her life was incredibly hard, especially after finding out that she was HIV positive, Khushi wanted to live to be there for her children. Her medication helped physically, but she couldn’t care for her boys alone and she needed emotional support. At the testing center she found information about one of Rahham’s partner organizations. They helped by giving her children food and schooling so she could work as a maid and by being there for her. Listening to her, sharing with her about our hope in Christ, reading Scriptures with her, praying and crying out to the Lord together. Today her sons are almost all grown and Khushi works as a paid volunteer to advocate for and support those living with HIV. Her message is hope over despair. Love over rejection. Freedom over shame.