Shake off stigmas

Social stigmas and taboos are expendable nuisances the Nepali society could do well without. For example, in the past people suffering from what is now a curable disease, Leprosy, were driven out of their homes and villages. The obsolete belief still persists. Chhaupadi is another bane that exposes young girls to a plethora of infectious diseases whenever exiled to a cowshed soon after the first menstruation. Unfortunate as it is, some segments of the society still hold on to those irrational customs. One such area where Nepalis do not spare much thought is the stigma attached to the HIV-infected. The people in this bracket in many parts of the country are a victim of social prejudice. About the misperception that those who have contracted HIV are of questionable moral character, the less said the better. Thus the Ms HIV Social Stigma Free Contest 2005 organised in Chitwan with a view to informing people that the stigma attached to the dreaded disease is a step in the right direction. The contest must bring cheer to the HIV-infected and encourage them to come out in the open.

Overreaction is no less dangerous than ignorance. The society, which until only few years back was unaware of the disease and its mode of transmission, is not qualified to question someone’s moral rectitude merely on grounds of his or her contracting HIV. To despise an HIV positive person as being immoral or sans good character on anybody’s part is simply a display of rank ignorance, which actually is a greater danger to the society than the disease itself. HIV is only a causal agent that is contracted through infected blood, needles and unsafe sex. Meanwhile, the society just cannot act as a morality brigade and label people with HIV as being despicable. Those in the infected group have long argued that their concerns for equal treatment as any other person, besides empowerment, welfare and uplift, are being ignored. The message the eight HIV positive participants of the event are sending to the nation is that they are no different than others and that precaution is the best tool. The plight of those already infected must not be allowed to get any worse, as is the case in many parts of the country. All orthodox and illogical beliefs must go and be replaced by progressive ones.