Dozens of Indian men and women infected with HIV/AIDS have agreed to marry each other after meeting at a special matchmaking event, hoping to end the isolation the deadly infection often brings.
Thirty infected men and women from across the country met at the “HIV+ Find a Life Partner” session late on Sunday in the western city of Surat, brought together by a local voluntary group working with HIV/AIDS patients.
For over 2 hours, they shared their experiences, discussed their families, medical histories and professions, with some even introducing their prospective partners to accompanying relatives, before agreeing to marry.
“We hope to die on a positive note even though we are infected by this virus,” said Sanjay Joshi, a Surat engineer, who lost his wife to AIDS 4 years ago.
Marriage would give him and his partner physical and emotional support said the 32-year-old man who agreed to marry a HIV infected woman from southern India and adopt her children.
“Only a HIV-positive person can understand and respect my status. We are all living with uncertainty every minute. Let us try and enjoy every bit of life with a companion,” said Joshi who has been ostracised by his parents and friends.
India has the world’s highest HIV/AIDS caseload with 5.7 million infected people. Although the country reported its first case in 1986 most victims face acute stigma due to a lack of awareness and misconceptions about the disease.
Over the years, the country has reported many instances of families disowning their loved ones because they are infected, children of HIV/AIDS patients being thrown out of school, landlords refusing to rent houses to victims and a infected woman having to abort her own foetus as doctors shunned her.
HIV/AIDS victims and voluntary groups working with them have been campaigning for a law to prevent discrimination of patients and accuse the government of dragging its feet on the legislation.
Daksha Patel, a coordinator at the “Network of Surat People Living with HIV+,” the group that organised the matchmaking event, said the aim was to bring together as many infected people as possible to help them find partners.
“Let them find, choose and decide on a partner. It will add a new spark to the lonely lives and give them a new zest to start all over again,” she said. Patel, who is infected by the virus herself, said many infected women at Sunday’s event were widows or divorcees who were infected by their husbands and shunned by families.
One such widow, 28-year-old Rani Patel, said she was thrown out by her in-laws after they found their son had died of AIDS and their daughter-in-law was infected as well.
“I learnt I was HIV-positive after my husband died,” Rani Patel said.
“By marrying again I can create awareness that HIV victims can live and enjoy a normal life,” she said as she attached her photograph to an application form for a partner.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD