India: Pastors as Gravediggers
Christians hope to break the silence and overcome Asia's prejudice against people with AIDS.
July 28, 2000
While 55-year-old M.K. Sridhar was making a statue, his voice cracked with emotion. "My life is re-formed, like a statue," he said. "It was like the wasted paper pulp in my hands." Sridhar is in a rehabilitation program at a Christian institute in Bangalore, India. He was abandoned by his family and friends when they discovered he had AIDS. "It's only the Christians who lent me a hand and saved me from shame and humiliation. Now I can die with dignity."Four million people in India have HIV; that makes them the largest HIV population in Asia and one of the largest in the world, according to T. Walia, deputy World Health Organization representative to India. Nearly 19 million worldwide have died from AIDS since the start of the epidemic in the 1980s. Even worse: throughout India, social stigma, isolation, and ostracism greet HIV sufferers every day. In the northeastern state of Manipur, some AIDS patients have been chained or sent to prison. Many of India's citizens see people with AIDS as beyond help, contagious, and destined to die isolated from family and friends.Christian churches have stepped forward into these desperate situations."The positive thing is that the churches are breaking [the] silence," says Antonia Andrew, a program manager with Christian AIDS/HIV National Alliance (CANA). "There was a time when [churches] wouldn't talk about AIDS; pastors wouldn't shake hands with a person with HIV. Now many churches have opened their premises for AIDS-related work."CANA was established two years ago to mobilize the church in India to respond to the growing AIDS epidemic. The group works with churches and organizations, developing HIV/AIDS-related programs.Prevention is at the top of churches' priority list. "The church ...