By Mohmad Iqbal
The history of HIV and AIDS is a short one, but its origins are disputed; yet, since it was first reported just over thirty years ago, it has become one of the leading causes of death worldwide. On June 5, 1981, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), describing cases of a rare lung infection, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), in five young, previously healthy, gay men in Los Angeles, later referred to as HIV positive patients. In 1986, the first known case of HIV was diagnosed by Dr. Suniti Solmon amongst female sex workers in Chennai. At that time, foreigners in India were travelling in and out of the country. It is thought that these foreigners were the ones responsible for the first infections. Although, the prevalence of HIV in Kashmir is very less as compared to the most other states, the first case of HIV in Kashmir was identified in the same year 1986 as in India. It was a German returned Business man from Kashmir who had got the virus somewhere outside India who died in the same year. Since then there have been many cases; some unidentified and asymptomatic, but the total registrations have not even crossed 210 to this date. There are many conspiracy theories regarding the number of HIV positive persons in the Kashmir valley; some even go to the extent of several thousands. There are a huge number of HIV persons besides the number of Kashmiri locals which include the armed forces and labourers. Let us, in lieu of this, have a detailed description of HIV persons in Kashmir.
The very basic conventional four ways of transmission of HIV include: unprotected sex, infected blood, infected syringes, and vertical transmission , that is, from a mother to her new born child, Kashmir has its unique four ways that resulted to this transmission at larger scale. Metaphorically the four ways are: One, J&K State is a tourist place,. Visitors from all over visit the region. Most of the visitors come from affluent States of India, which include the states having a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Hence, Jammu and Kashmir s is at a greater risk of HIV /AIDS because of being a tourist destination. Two, long distance truck drivers: truckers consisted of truck drivers and helpers, and are considered a vulnerable bridge population for HIV transmission in J&K. Truckers are the primary reason to bring HIV to their families in Kashmir. As there is no rail link between Jammu, Srinagar and Ladakh, truckers playing a major role for carrying commodities and other stocks from different parts of India to J&K.
A mapping study was conducted in 4 districts of the State in 2014 which has shown presence of 7400 (approximately) truckers in these areas. Three, Migrant labourers: Migrants can be classified into internal, inter-district, intra–district, intra-regional and inter State. Inter State migrants constitute the major portion of migrant patterns. The mapping Study has identified some 28395 persons as vulnerable migrants in 4 districts of Jammu and Kashmir in 2014 which is on rise since then. Four, high concentration of forces: The another major concern is this, as these forced keep getting transferred from one state to another and those personnel posted in high prevalence States like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and other North eastern states when transferred to J&K can bring the HIV infection.
Over the years, majority of the cases detected in the SKIMS and other hospitals were from India’s paramilitary Border Security Force and Central Reserve Police Force. Dr Siddiqi recalled how a man from frontier town of Uri in north Kashmir contracted the virus after he had sex with an infected woman. It was alleged that a soldier was responsible for passing on the virus to her. Another Kashmiri villager, it’s said, contracted the disease at a local chemist shop where he got injected with a syringe that had been used on some soldiers.
AIDS was until recently unknown to conservative Muslim-majority Kashmir. But, there have been over 80 AIDS deaths since 2000. However, it is presumed that the death toll and the number of HIV infected is much higher, given that Kashmiris have, like many other Muslim societies, reservations about discussing the AIDS and reluctance to admit it. “I would say the number could be much more,” head of the Immunology Department at SKIMS, said, adding that many patients don’t report to hospitals fearing stigma. “Though 210 is not a big number as compared to 2.5 million HIV positive patients found in India, the existence of the virus indicate that we’re no more away from it” he said. Jammu and Kashmir had been the only state where HIV virus had failed largely to make inroads. But the presence of around half-a-million forces, thousands of migrant labourers, heavy tourist influx in recent years and the concentration of truckers has broken its envied status.
HIV/AIDS is a one name to sufferings, stigma, hatred, ostracism, discrimination, exclusion and more. It has become a universal phenomenon and results in an enormous human suffering and deaths. It is no more an exaggeration that people fear of HIV/AIDS death less than its social implications. Its reach and effect cuts across all dimensions of society causing outrage and instability to human security. AIDS ranks fourth among the leading causes of deaths all over the world. World leaders across the globe have defined the HIV epidemic as a national catastrophe. It severely tells upon the global minds and psyche of humankind.
HIV/AIDS is a social disease as well as a medical condition. The progression of AIDS as a medical disease runs parallel to the drastic and irreparable stigma and discrimination. AIDS has a culminating effect on the social life and society as a whole. HIV/AIDS related Stigma and Discrimination has been as killing as the disease itself and even more than that. In India at many places the HIV positive patients have been forcefully evicted from their homes, their work places. Some have been denied health care and facilities. Some are disowned by their families and community. HIV positive is considered not less than a devil, off track, mischievous, unfaithful, and unclean.
I am witness to so many firsthand similar narratives from Kashmir where family members disown the HIV person. A person from Budgam district recalls that he is a HIV positive since more than seven years, but his own family members are yet to know about it.
The need of the hour is that no disease should carry a social tag in the form of ‘stigma’ and ‘discrimination’. Diseases are mere medical conditions and not social one. Putting a social tag as such leads to multidimensional exclusion of the diseased making their lives further trapped in vicious circle of miseries, agony and pain. These are the people who constitutionally, socially, morally, who have rights to live their lives with dignity and grace.
The author is a PhD Research Scholar at the Department of Social Work Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org