Freelance Nomad

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day: wear your ribbons

Today - 1 December - is World AIDS Day. Given all the work going on with DISHA and Wake Up Pune, that's a big deal.

This time last year DISHA organised an event called 'Celebration of Life'. It was about bringing together the local community to be positive about HIV/AIDS, to remember that HIV is not the end, and that people living with HIV should be treated with dignity and respect rather than stigma and discrimination. In the morning we had a rally around the area, with local schools and community groups joining in. Then in the evening, there was a stage show - with plenty of laser lights and dry ice for added atmosphere - featuring dances, songs, street plays, positive speakers and all that jazz. It was fabulous. More than 3000 members of the Tadiwala Road community attended. Not that they could really stay away, since it was held slap bang in the middle of the slum.

This year - tied in with of Wake Up Pune - we'd lined up Celebration of Life 2006, even bigger and better than last year. Unfortunately, the event has been postponed. The cause: violent unrest in Maharashtra.

A couple of days ago, a statue of Dr B R Ambedkar was vandalised in Kanpur, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Dr Ambedkar was a major figure in the Indian freedom struggle, a brilliant mind (he framed the Indian constitution and served as independent India's first Law Minister) and a hero to the Dalits - the so-called 'untouchables', of whom he was one. Dr Ambedkar was a champion of the oppressed, and in many hutments in Tadiwala Road you'll see a picture of him on the wall.

As a reaction to the vandalism, there have been violent protests all over Maharashtra. Pune is no exception. "Normal life was thrown out of gear as Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad municipal transport buses went off the roads for a major part of the day. Angry mobs continued to damage buses, cars, other private vehicles and shops." (Maharashtra Herald, 1 December)

I don't think Dr Ambedkar believed in this kind of violence. But tensions run high, and at the moment there are a lot of 'offended sentiments'. I don't know whether this bloody unrest is solely a reaction to the original vandalism, or is in fact a symptom of the wider issues of marginalisation and alienation in the community. Perhaps people just enjoy a good riot.

Anyway, for the time being, the Celebration of Life is off. It's important to be sensitive to the local population - as Hans puts it, any kind of 'celebration' would be inappropriate at this time. As for the rally, people might get confused what it was about. I saw a rally going round Tadiwala Road yesterday evening and they definitely weren't celebrating anything.

Things seem better today though: some of the local shops have raised their shutters, and rickshaws are plying the roads again. Usually, these things blow over in a few days.

How blasé we can become.

Folks: please wear your ribbons for World AIDS Day and show your support for the cause.


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