Students discriminated: Goa has always treated HIV positive patients badly

Panaji: When the first indigenous HIV+ve case was detected in Goa in 1989, the 'patient' Dominic D'Souza was chaperoned by police guards armed with rifles and bamboo sticks and rudely shoved into a quarantine centre.

Going by the manner in which a Parents Teachers Association (PTA) has held an entire school in the South Goan village of Rivona to ransom, first, over 13 HIV+ve students and later over 23 other orphans, who they suspect are also HIV+ve, only goes to show that despite its credible social indices, HIV apartheid continues in the beach paradise.

But in 1989, the picture was admittedly grimmer. The shocking story of how Dominic learnt of his HIV+ve status and the manner in which the state administration reacted to it is best described in a research paper presented by an Australia-based lawyer Julie Hamblin in 1992. On 14 February, 1989, the police knocked on Dominic's house, asking
him to report to the local police station.

Representational Image. Reuters

Representational Image. Reuters

On reaching there, he was whisked to a local hospital for a medical examination. Confused by the goings-on around him, Dominic, she says was scared. "His fear did not abate when he saw that six policemen were standing at the door of the casualty ward, two of them armed with rifles and the others with bamboo sticks," Hamblin says in her paper which was presented at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific some months after Dominic's death.

A doctor formally pronounced Dominic's HIV+ve status to him, after which he was quarantined to a squalid room for 64 days, in what was once a TB sanatorium. Dominic legally fought his way out of quarantine and along with friends like lecturer Isabel de Santa Maria Vas, from Panaji started Positive People, an NGO which works for the welfare of HIV+ve patients.

"From the day, Dominic passed away (1992) till today, the voice of the public and the media has changed a great deal. When Dominic was found to be HIV positive, the instinctive reaction of the government was to quarantine him," recalls Vas.

"Those days, the press too howled bloody murder. The press doesn't do that now. The press is now playing a positive role," she added. Dominic's spirited struggle against the disease and social discrimination stemming from AIDS, even inspired a mainstream Bollywood film 'My Brother... Nikhil' in 2005 starring Sanjay Suri playing Dominic's character.

Since February 1989, 15,418 HIV+ve cases have been documented in the small state with a population of 1.5 million.
As far as the Rivona incident goes, for now, politicians across party affiliation, media and the social media have vociferously backed the 23 students, demanding they stay put in school, which Vas takes away as a positive.

According to Vas however, the solution to the impasse in the short and the long term has little to do with rhetoric and more with routine. "Firefighting in the present is required. A directive from the State authorities is necessary. And although it sounds routine, the long term answer is creating sustained awareness. The stigma will work off like it did with leprosy, which was once taboo in India," she says.

For now however, the month-long stand-off between Fatima High School's PTA on the one side and the school management and the administration on the other side continues. Despite counseling and cajoling by the administration and the school
authorities over 40 parents, who have been protesting against the admission of the 23 suspected HIV+ve students, have applied for school leaving certificates on behalf of their wards.

The school officials have already been forced to shift 13 HIV+ve students secretly to another school following pressure from the parents.

Updated Date: Jul 25, 2014 08:29 AM

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