It was in 2003, that Dinesh Joshi discovered his HIV+ status. The rude awakening left him with two alternatives. The first and the easier one, prompted him to shut himself in the four walls of his house and live a life of isolation and despondency. The second one though, motivated him to come out in the open and create an environment where HIV+ people could be accepted and treated normally. Dinesh decided to go with the latter choice, which also was the tougher one to make.
“When I decided to come out in open about my HIV status, people started looking at me differently. Either there was complete dejection or too much sympathy. Things weren’t normal and that hurt me more than being HIV positive,” shares Dinesh, whose only support came in the form of Dr Arvind Mathur, principal controller, SN Medical College. Strength of conviction persisted though, and there came an upsurge of energy and motivation to induce a change, a change that came by the name of Jodhpur Network of Positive People or JNP+ in 2003.
Dinesh, adds, “There wasn’t much support from the society. Aid from the government too was either not there or wasn’t publicly visible. What was needed was a movement where people could get together and generate a platform to help, uplift and motivate others. That is what JNP+ started doing.”
Set up by Dinesh, Jodhpur Network of Positive People or JNP+ is more of a community organisation, a community of infected people who are low on confidence and self-esteem. The organisation believes in working inside out. More than educating the society at large, JNP+ aims at working within the community of infected people, alleviating them of self imposed guilt and inculcating a sense of confidence and motivation in them.
“Once the inner battles are won it is easier to get the society on your side and we have, so far, seen that by-product in our endeavours,” says Dinesh, getting philosophical.
“The fundamental problem with the HIV infected people isn’t so much of the disease itself, but more of the ‘social stigma’ that comes along. HIV patients often go into depression and live an invisible life to avoid public insensitivity. Project Vihaan works at this aspect of the problem,” says Dinesh, sharing the philosophy behind Vihaan.
“Vihaan in Sanskrit means the first ray of sun. Our main goal here at project Vihaan is to keep the motivation levels high and show light where there is despair,” says Dinesh, “We try to inculcate a sense of confidence in these people and try to negate the feelings of self dejection and embarrassment. We hold meetings and seminars where small groups of HIV+ people are educated about government schemes and policies, medication available and the need to continue medication. A number of people out of their sheer unwillingness to live, and bogged down with societal behaviour stop taking their medication, which they shouldn’t be doing at any cost. Hence, our first endeavour is to counsel, motivate, educate and support them through Project Vihaan,” adds Dinesh.
Project Vihaan also aims at making life simpler for HIV+ people. Supporters involve themselves in obtaining health cards for infected people, support single HIV+ mothers and even help widows get pensions.
Dinesh, who is well aware of the societal stand on the issue, especially in and around Jodhpur region, wanted to do something substantial to protect the young infected ones from societal wrath.
“As adults, we can probably understand the social psychology and framework of our very closed society, but children are far too innocent to comprehend. For an HIV+ child to understand why he is being discriminated against is impossible,” says Bhavna Parekh, grieved at the insensitive outlook of our society. Bhavna, who lost her husband and daughter to HIV 10 years ago, works with Bal Basera. The shock of these deaths took away her parents too. Today, she finds happiness in being around HIV infected kids and takes care of them.
Most of the children at this child care home are orphans who have lost their parents to HIV. “Bal Basera child care home is a holistic centre where these children play, learn, live and do all sorts of activities that every child is entitled too. We take care of their educational, medical and recreational needs,” explains Bhavna.
Bal Basera is home to 60 children who have been alienated by the society for no fault of theirs. Dinesh Joshi and his team at Bal Basera provide unbiased, unprejudiced and fair living conditions to the infected children so that they grow up into becoming confident adults, not ashamed of their HIV+ status.
Apart from its successful ventures like Project Vihaan and Bal Basera School, JNP+ has many personal success stories to share. For one, a lot of people have stopped living in self pity, guilt and dejection. People have become aware of the many government schemes and policies that prevent discrimination at work and are standing up for their rights. HIV+ parents with proper medical counselling and education have borne offsprings who are no longer HIV+. “It was shocking and at the same time thrilling for some parents to learn that despite them being HIV+, their children are free from the stigma,” shares Dinesh, cheerfully.
“Our future projects at JNP+ aim at uplifting HIV+ women and children as they are the soft targets of ridicule and harassment,” adds Dinesh, enthusiastic about the new up-coming projects. “We are trying to pursue a partnership with the government where some land can be allotted to us and we can start a holistic home for HIV infected kids. I am really hopeful of seeing a change in the society and within the infected community itself,” he trails off on a very positive note.
According to the 2013 statistics, India has the third largest number of HIV infected people. By 2014, despite 15,000 HIV testing and counselling healthcare facilities (HTC’s), only 13 percent of the infected population was aware of their condition and hence combatting AIDS has become a distant dream for now. Out of these 13 percent, most of the people are living in the dark and grim shadows of the disease. It is here that endeavours like JNP+ have made a difference by helping people overcome social stigmas, self-condemnation and shame. More importantly as a consequence of this movement, people are getting counselled about HIV, self-care and steps necessary to curtail the virus from spreading.