By Garima Tiwari

Protecting and promoting the health rights as well as legal human rights of the high-risk and vulnerable community is a prerequisite for dealing with the problem of HIV/AIDS and helping to control its spread. With this in mind, JusticeMakers organized a community outreach drive and awareness camp in the Mandideep Area near Bhopal, an industrial area that has been highlighted as a high-risk area because of the presence of migrant workers and truck drivers.

The area has very low literacy rates, high crime rates, high levels of aggression and violence, social isolation, unemployment, poor child-parental communication, early involvement in risky behavior and a lack of awareness of and accessibility to health services.

The specific objective of this awareness camp was to increase knowledge and understanding about HIV/AIDS and STI; to reduce high-risk behavior amongst the people; to create positive thinking and make people open up to discussing the problems; and finally to discuss the legal issues involved.

Participants of the awareness drive included factory workers, truck drivers, and their families. There were also young boys and girls who took training sessions—in total, around 400 participants attended the programme.

Our trainers included Mr. Dinkar Tripathi, a master trainer who has also conducted various programme on HIV/AIDS, and Ms. Sudha Rathore, the Ward Counselor from the Subharambh-Education, Health and Public Welfare Committee in Mandideep.

Most of the participants were completely unaware about HIV/AIDS, and some had not even heard of it. To break the ice, the movie Amma, which highlighted the issue, was also on the screen. It was important that programme leaders give a brief introduction on family planning before speaking of a highly tabooed subject. After this, the programme started with the basics of HIV/AIDS, causes, symptoms, precautions and available medical facilities.

The methods used in the programme included:
1.Interactive Sessions
2.Movie Screening
3.Poster Presentations
4.Story-telling and experience sharing

At first participants were shy to come out and speak about the issues, but gradually people opened up with various doubts, such as whether AIDS spreads by sitting together or using the same towel. Men and women also had separate sessions so that they might ask different questions.

The programme also featured a discussion on the rights of those suffering with HIV/AIDS and how one should treat them—programme leaders explained human rights as well as various constitutional guarantees.

Alienation and stigmatization seem to be deep-rooted because of various myths associated with those suffering from HIV/AIDS, so the programme emphasized an explanation of the rights and legal provisions pertaining to the same. In addition, the programme explained the concept of legal aid.

Relevant educational and informational material was also distributed, and the use of condoms was also promoted. Participants could also receive a list of all the centers where free medical check-up and testing is conducted with full privacy and confidentiality.

This was the first programme that was conducted in that area on this issue and was highly appreciated, as all of this information was new to participants.

Garima Tiwari is a 2012 HIV/AIDS JusticeMakers Fellow working in Bhopal, India. Her project focuses on educating lawyers, prison officers, and police on the rights of people in the criminal justice system living with HIV/AIDS.