By Sonia Sarkar
NEW DELHI, India, 2 December 2010 – Fifteen-year-old Sunita stays alone with her ageing grandmother. No one visits them and if they do once a while, drinking tea or sharing food with the family is avoided.
Sunita lost both her parents to AIDS and faces discrimination for being the daughter of positive parents.
Her grandmother silently mourns her daughter’s death “Little had I thought, I would be living in my daughter’s house and being mother to her child who cannot even attend regular college because of stigma and discrimination associated with HIV,” says the frail mother.
The frail mother, portrayed by theater artist Gauree Dewan, enacted the introductory part of the play, Shifa (healing), before a jam packed audience in Malvankar Hall in Delhi.
The play, enacted to mark the World AIDS Day, captured the despair and discrimination faced by people living with HIV-AIDS through the powerful medium of theatre. Each scene etched out a painful and hard hitting glimpse of people who are suffering from stigma associated with HIV-AIDS.
Supported by UNICEF and National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), Shifa was directed and scripted by Ms Tripurari Sharma, Associate Professor at National School of Drama, New Delhi.
The screenplay of Shifa has been inspired from in-depth research and interviews with positive people and their families, conducted by Sharma for over one-and a half year. The highlight of the play was the message of hope projected through the stories of endurance and survival of its woman characters.
Harvinder Kaur, who plays the role of a positive woman, powerfully portrayed the plight of women who are stigmatised by society.
"The challenge for me was to realistically bring out the desperation of a pregnant widow who was being marginalised due to her positive status. I had to live the stark loneliness of a pregnant woman facing death, tormented by the thought that she may have transmitted the infection to her unborn child,” says Kaur.
“My effort as an actor was to reflect the humane side of the situation in an emotional way,” she adds.
National Award Winner for Young Theatre Artist for 2010, Teekam Joshi, plays the role of a young man who has just been diagnosed as a HIV positive person. Joshi brings forth the struggle of a character who knows that death is not far away and now seeks to appreciate every moment of his life.
Globally at the end of 2009, 5 million young people aged 15–24 were estimated to be living with HIV. India is home to the third largest number of people living with HIV in the world and do face considerable discrimination from the society.
The vast majority of HIV infections in India occur through sexual transmission (85.6 per cent). Nearly five per cent of infections result from parent-to-child transmission.
A jam packed audience appreciated the performance of the actors and lauded the organisers for bringing such a sensitive issue into the open.
“After watching this play, my attitude towards HIV positive people has definitely changed.” said Anita Verma, one of the persons attending the play. “I will spread the message among my friends that HIV positive persons have the same right to love and respect as any normal being,”
The Secretary of Health and Director General NACO, K. Chandramouli and UNICEF India Country Representative, Karin Hulshof, were present as chief guests and felicitated Ms Tripurari for the choice of the powerful medium of theatre to reach out to a wider public on the issue of stigma associated with HIV-AIDS.