Each year on Dec. 1, the world celebrates World AIDS Day. Yet, many of those infected with the virus face personal peril from a different front. According to Human Rights Watch, "People living with HIV/AIDS and those thought to be infected have been imprisoned, assaulted and even murdered.”
The Human Rights Watch report recounted several cases: "In June 2005, Octavio Acuña Rubio, an AIDS and human rights activist, was stabbed to death. In June 2006, Vivian Kavuma was murdered by her lover in Uganda after disclosing that she was infected with HIV. In November 2005, Steve Harvey, an outspoken AIDS activist in Jamaica, was murdered. In April 2006, Isaiah Gakuyo, 15, was killed by his uncle for being HIV-positive.”
I was brought up in a traditional family in the village of Biratnagar, located near the Indian border in the southeastern region of Nepal. Most of the people living there practice their faith traditionally. Also, marriages and family planning issues are the subject of secrets and gossip in my village. During my studies, I wrote articles about women’s rights, family planning, faith and HIV/AIDS issues. I became confused, as a result of my upbringing. Then, a serious occurrence in my village changed my thinking.
One of the women in our village named Sudha married a man of bad character, who was HIV positive. From that day on, her parents did not allow her to enter their house. I felt very confused by these events. After that incident, no one would talk to her when she visited the village. They did not even allow her to join in the celebration of festivals. Everywhere, she was criticized, because other villagers assumed that she had abandoned her family.
One day, I gave a book and pictures to some villagers about women’s rights, HIV/AIDS, health and culture, and I discussed these subjects extensively with them. They learned about the importance of health, HIV/AIDS and women and how to deal with related problems that might occur. I have taught many of the schoolchildren how to work on health issues. Slowly, some villagers came to their own realizations and began to allow Sudha to enter village life again. I still get many responses about this.
On May 28 this year, I met Sudha in Kathmandu, Nepal. The meeting was possible because I was coming from the post office and taking the way past her home. When I saw her, I smiled and, in response, she also smiled a bit. I felt a stirring sensation and said, "Let's go for a cup of tea."
She couldn't say no to my invitation and so she began to walk with me. We entered a restaurant close by. My face was flushed and red as I sat in the chair and said to her, "I want to know something about you and your disease.”
She answered simply, "My story has been one without any compromise. Perhaps it's my weakness not to be able to give it a definite direction." Then she asked, "But why are you so interested in my HIV status?"
I told her, in one rushed breath, "I want to know about the intimate kind of relations between you and your husband, how you both love each other.” It appeared as if I had said it too hurriedly. Sudha's eyes were suddenly filled with tears. It was unbearable to me, so I said, "Why the sudden change?"
She asked me, "I want to say one thing to you, will you agree to it?" I felt quite sad to see her crying. She went on, "I want to give you something that I have never given anybody in my life up until now. If you agree to accept it, please come meet me tomorrow."
I showed my willingness, responding, "Yes, of course." After that, without adding a word, she said goodbye to me and went home. I was left alone, gazing at the cold tea.
After Sudha's request, I found myself standing amid the crowd at Ratna Park for some hours the next day. It was getting increasingly crowded at the place I was standing, nothing unusual for a city. I felt pity at seeing the lines of beggars on the side of street, wondering how such a large number of people make their living. Everywhere, Kathmandu is covered with advertisements, but none of these ads affect the life of the city. People in multicolored dresses walked by.
Sudha arrived, coming quite close before I saw her. I turned toward her and asked her why she was late. At that moment, Sudha's face looked really pitiable and frustrated. I saw that she had some envelopes in her hand. She said, "Thank you very much. You waited for me for a long time. I have written this letter to my mother. I would be grateful if you could do me the favor of handing it to her. I also want to offer you this handkerchief for doing this for me."
There was a tremor in her voice and her hands were shaking. I took the envelope from her hand and accepted the handkerchief as well. This is my memory of Sudha.
I later heard that she was killed in Kathmandu in June, by her husband's family, for being HIV-positive.
This article was originally published by UPI.