True grit

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If we were to pick a man of the year from Manipur today, bodybuilder Khundrakpam Pradipkumar, in the senior 60kg class 2007, would definitely be a strong contender. In all likelihood, he would win hands down too. Here is somebody who has shown rare courage not just in overcoming a painful stigma, but also in the fight against HIV/AIDS. At the age of 29, in 2000, this fitness freak suddenly and strangely was taken ill. When no medication worked to cure him of what had seemed common ailments, including an unexplained sudden attack of tuberculosis, doctors tested him for the HIV/ AIDS virus, an emerging scourge in the Manipur society which was already quietly claiming many young lives, and their suspicion was confirmed. Pradipkumar’s experiment with drugs injection in his younger days was coming back at him with a vengeance, and he was now seropositive. The discovery expected left him devastated, but after the initial shock, he fought back and in a story of grit and courage, he has shown the world the dreaded virus does not necessarily have to be the end of living. You can carry the virus and still very much live life king-size and be a world beater. This body building champion, physiologically a man of steel, has also proven he is made of the same mettle spiritually. It would be unfair to not mentioned here that it was a progressive Central government intervention, rolling out free antiretroviral medicines in 2003-04, which made the champion’s battle simpler. His biography titled I am HIV Positive, So What?: A World Champion’s Fight Against Drugs, Disease and Discrimination written by senior journalist Jayanta Kalita and published by reputed international publisher, Bloomsbury . It is an extremely sensitive issue and anybody would be hurt to be falsely implicated as a carrier of the virus.

Lest the message go down wrongly, there is nothing to be proud of this dreaded disease, but there is everything to be proud of the way men and women like Pradipkumar are fighting it. The disease is dreaded and must be banished but its victims must be allowed to continue to live fully with dignity and respect. For this to happen, it needs two players reciprocating and complementing each other in the battle. One is the society, and the other, the persons who have the disease. Now that the virus and its modes of spread are known, the society must, and has indeed to a good extent begun accepting those with the virus back into its fold again. There is plenty more to be done still in this regard, but some steps forward have perceptibly been taken. The other important combatants in this war are the victims themselves. They must not resign. Pradipkumar has shown how not to do this. They must continue to believe in life and its myriad possibilities. But it is also important they come out open so as not to suffer from the sense of being fugitives, hiding and dodging the gaze of society they belong to. It will also be a matter of supreme sacrifice for each of them to resolve that the buck would stop with each of them and they would not allow themselves to be agents for its further spread.

In many ways, the issue is like poverty or destitution or for that matter prostitution. There is no pride in poverty or glory in destitution or dignity in prostitution. Many, including some NGOs working in the area, in their false sense of political correctness have tended to disagree. Like HIV/AIDS, the predicament of these victims too had been forced on them by compelling circumstances beyond their control. The dignity on the other hand, again just as in the HIV/AIDS case, is in the battle against these scourges. Those caught in these traps must be given respect, but respect meant to enable them to fight their conditions and not to perpetuate them. Prostitution for instance must be treated as a condition that must be got over. Those unfortunately caught in it must be given respect, but this should not mean the profession also must be glorified? This opinion is based on data available with NGOs working in the area. Nobody in the profession have confessed coming into it by the exercise of free volition. Most of them were forced into it by shearing poverty and all of them without exception would not like their children taking to it. In all of these cases, HIV/AIDS included, the diseases, pathological and sociological, must be fought, but the victims of the diseases must be given dignity. And in this battle, a partnership between the society and the victims is called for. And yes, we need heroes like Pradipkumar to step forward to break barriers previously thought unbreakable

Source: Imphal Free Press

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