Everyone applauded the courage the five HIV positive people showed by coming out in the public last week. Bhutanese in Facebook and other social networking sites also showed their solidarity and support by posting words of encouragement.
The World Aids Day on December 1 was a special moment. I for one had to cover the event and write stories of these brave souls. Yes, I was excited to see them because knowingly I have never met a HIV positive person.
So I set an interview with them and the entire day I was anxious, waiting for the clock to strike five. And finally there I was, sitting among the five of them.
At first everything was fine but as the interview went by, I was getting nervous. I am aware of how HIV/AIDS spread but I could not help but feel a little uncomfortable. In hindsight, it all had to do with my own set of preconceived notions of the disease.
Across the world, HIV/AIDs is a taboo. For a moment, it seemed I was part of this world and the ignorant people who has and continues to discriminate people living with HIV.
They were talking to me about discrimination and social stigma and I was doing that to them subconsciously. To even think that I felt that way now pricks my conscience to death.
After the interview got over as I walked out, a shadow of guilt hovered around me. I could not stop thinking about the way I felt and at a certain point might have behaved. It was all an innocent mistake to have thought about them in that way.
I am not a discriminating person but it is us and the society that have led to this social fear against the disease. It is not the person I feared but it was the disease.
After I interacted with them at a very personal level, I am now a more educated person. The experience opened my eyes. Now I know, they are like any one of us, battling a disease. I know there would be many out there who would react in the same way, perhaps at the first instant.
I hope one day the world would get over with the fear of HIV/AIDS and embrace people with HIV instead of disowning them. I hope everyone would understand that HIV/AIDS people deserve equal respect, care and love like any other. They are normal human beings like us, with or without a disease.
By coming out, they have shown that they are willing to sacrifice their own peace for a greater cause. Now it is our responsibility to accept them as part of our community.
A desktop wallpaper on a friend’s computer had a cartoon that read, “I am HIV+, will you hug me?” Without a second thought, I whispered, “Yes, I will!”