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Twenty eight years ago when my husband was posted at a town by the name of Barnala in Punjab, I remember an officer's wife crying bitterly because she had become pregnant. She already had four small children. She told me weeping that her husband did not like to use 'protection' and had also felt 'ashamed' to take her to the 'MI ' (Medical Inspection) Room for 'birth control protection'. There was always the nagging worry that some one in the 'MI' Room would tell someone else and everyone in the Air Force base would come to know and risqué jokes and innuendoes could follow, she said. This was despite the fact that there was a lady Gynecologist who was present in the MI Room. These 'MI' Rooms were like Clinics equipped with medical facilities for the Air Force personnel and their families.
I remembered this incident yesterday when my daughter came home beaming; a red ribbon pinned on her shawl with an armful of booklets and pamphlets after attending a function related to 'World AIDS Day'. Slogans like -'Use a condom to protect oneself from AIDS' were splashed all over the print and electronic media. What a change from those days when one felt a great deal of reluctance to utter the word 'condom', I thought. Nowadays this word is used with ease thanks to the awareness programmes all over the country by the Government of India which disseminates a lot of information about HIV and AIDS. These massive information campaigns on television are responsible for reducing inhibitions in most people in India to the extent that most today can speak with ease about 'safe sex ', 'using a condom' and so on.
Yesterday, powerful political leaders flagged off a special train from Delhi which would be travelling across the country with the purpose of helping people with HIV/AIDS. There was a deluge of reporting on Indian television channels about HIV/AIDS - of functions, walks, images of celebrities hugging people with HIV/AIDS and playing with children with HIV/AIDS.
The so called 'cultural differences' which are supposed to make us Indians 'so different' from the Western countries have not prevented the Indian Government from carrying out massive awareness campaigns about a deeply stigmatising illness like HIV/AIDS. In fact it is the sheer magnitude of these campaigns that have been responsible for the success so far in dealing with HIV/AIDS.
The voice of intense human suffering is the same all over the world be it India or any 'Western country'. There is so much suffering a person with a severe Mental Illness like Schizophrenia undergoes. So one cannot understand at all why in most debates 'cultural differences' are often cited as reasons for a 'different approach' to people struggling with severe Mental Illnesses in India when it is not so with HIV/AIDS. Equally pertinent is the fact that in a fairly recent report by the Government of India titled - 'Burden of disease in India' it is stated that there are more than 65 million people in India with severe mental illnesses. This is vastly larger as compared to about 5 million people in India who have HIV/AIDS.