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Homearrow News and Events Year 2010 Faiths Take On Common Foe — HIV

Faiths Take On Common Foe — HIV

Times of India
29 September 2010
Bangalore, India

Religious Leaders Converge At AoL Ashram For Summit, Pledge Support
AIDS has no religion, it’s human – this was the unanimous message conveyed at the Art of Living ashram on Monday and Tuesday.

FOR A CAUSE: Religious leaders on Tuesday sign a declaration to remove stigma and discrimination against those living with HIV. (Right) People came in support to fight the menace at the AoL ashram FOR A CAUSE: Religious leaders on Tuesday sign a declaration to remove stigma and discrimination against those living with HIV. (Right) People came in support to fight the menace at the AoL ashram
A two–day inter–faith summit organized by the foundation on HIV and AIDS was attended by religious leaders from across the country and abroad. One could sense the country’s religious diversity in the ashram and also leaders’ unity to fight against the common enemy.

"Even today, in rural India, religious leaders have a say. If it comes from them, people meticulously follow it. If they remain ignorant about it and keep condemning the HIV–positive, there will be more stigma," said Sri Sri Ravishankar.

Leaders included that of Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and representatives from different states. They signed a declaration to remove stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

"We have committed ourselves to create awareness about it. We will spend 5–7 minutes to speak positively about HIV. We will publicly go into houses of HIV–positive people and associate with them. We ourselves will get tested to keep track of our HIV status," said Rev J P Heath, a leader living with HIV. "In a country like this, how much ever doctors get involved, the stigma won’t go without the involvement of people," he added.

As many as 15 regional bodies have been formed to fight for the cause. Each will consist of leaders from different religions who will work together towards this end. "Hindu swamis will work together with maulanas and Fathers. It will be a common platform for them to work," said Sri Sri. Laterm the groups will work on other pressing issues like alcoholism and female foeticide.

Meet This Leader
J P Heath, founder of INERELA+, an international inter–faith network of religious leaders – both lay and ordained – living with HIV, spoke about his experiences.

An Anglican priest, he found he was HIV–positive 11 years ago. "I faced many a stigma myself. The first was self–stigma – the fear that you will be rejected by society. Many people do not survive this stage. In the second stage, I was wondering what will happen when the Bishop finds out. I thought I’ll be kicked out of the House. Pressure and stress are not good for HIV. I told him, and he said you can continue working but do not tell anybody else," he said.

Heath later raised awareness among his congregation about HIV and when he finally said he was positive, they asked him what was wrong about it. "HIV does not rob you of your skills and potentials. Around 10,000 interface religious leaders are part of this network," he said.

"Religious leaders are humans. They are not divorced from the reality of life. There’s an additional level of stigma because HIV is associated with immoral sex. They are vulnerable to HIV because they work amidst them. Cases like blood transfusion, tattoos and marriage can be the reasons," he said.

INERELA+ was launched in 2008 and its prevention strategy has been adopted in a couple of countries.

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