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How Coming Out As HIV Positive Was The Second Time I Had To Step Out Of The Closet

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When you are first diagnosed, it feels like you have been given a life sentence. You feel isolated and alone. You are left within the whirlwind of your thoughts and emotions. It is a mental and emotional roller coaster of coming to terms with the new reality that you have HIV.

Though it can be seen as a life sentence in terms of it being a lifelong medical condition, you remain free. This is one of many chapters in your life, with much of the journey and its conclusion still to be written. It is a new chapter and a new beginning of self-awareness, individual purpose and happiness. When I found out that I was HIV positive, I never imagined how much my life would change, how many friends I would lose or how many friends I would gain. But being diagnosed HIV positive opened up my eyes and showed me the true colours of the world and the people who live in it.

World AIDS Day: 21,00,000 people in India live with HIV, says WHO report
21,00,000 people in India live with HIV, says the WHO report. Representative only.

“For Many Years, I’ve Kept My HIV Status Very Private”

I have been stigmatized and discriminated against due to my HIV status. Even though I have grown to accept my status, I still have moments just like everybody else living with the virus. I still have days when I wish that I could be free of this virus and disease, especially on those days when the neuropathic pains hit. Every cough, sneeze or tingling in my throat scares me.

For many years, I’ve kept my HIV status very private. Coming out as HIV positive was not an option during this time. I couldn’t tell anyone- especially my family that I was not only gay but also had contracted HIV. I told myself it was because I wanted to protect them or at least that was my excuse to continue living in the shadows of loneliness, shame and guilt for having allowed myself to contract this virus.

“It’s A Large Part Of Me, But It’s Not The Biggest Part Of Me”

But it’s something that I’ve learned is a part of me. It’s a large part of me, but it’s not the biggest part of me. I want people to look at me and think, he is Rohit Malik. He’s got HIV. But who cares? I never thought that I would be in this situation. And I know a lot of other people who thought the same thing. I was very naive, young and uneducated. People need to be more educated.

“I was once on a road of self-destruction, but, because of my diagnosis, I am now on the road to self-discovery.” Representative image only.

HIV awareness is still so important. A lot of parents don’t want their children to be taught about sex or diseases related to sex in school. I’m not an expert on when to talk to a child about these things, but I believe they should be educated about HIV and other issues when they are in high school. Ideally, the students should be able to ask questions of someone who is living with HIV.

Real questions with real answers can and should be asked. I was once on a road of self-destruction, but, because of my diagnosis, I am now on the road to self-discovery. I am not that competitive of a person but now I think of myself as a winner in this game called life. I put myself at risk in the past and now I must live with the consequences and what I might call now a small blessing. I now eat a healthier diet. I go to sleep at a reasonable time. I get restful sleep. I take all my necessary medications and vitamins. I am more physically active and I am learning to take life at a slower rate and actually smell the roses.

An Individual’s Diagnosis And Treatment Is More Important Than Your Prejudices and Apathy

Although everyone has their own journey, there is a natural river of empathy that flows through me when I see people living with HIV. I get that it is a uniquely stigmatized disease and can come with a lot of social burdens. I think knowing your status is essential; access to treatment is essential. Talking about HIV and reducing stigma are also crucial to making a dent in the HIV fight. We have the tools to begin to turn the tide of this epidemic and it is time that we scale up and put them in place for all of our health and well being.

I would say that when something like HIV takes control of your life, having someone to share it with it makes it easier. Also if you have family and friends, you have a great life. HIV is not the end of my life. I can choose to live a normal life and have a normal life span because I choose to fight, stand up and be brave. I choose to fight against HIV stigma and to stand up against HIV discrimination. I choose to be brave against HIV.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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