Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Role of Religion in HIV/AIDS Awareness

There was a recent health-related post on SikhNet which discussed one Sikh activist's commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS. Dr. Raghbir Singh Bains tells us about his experience with HIV/AIDS research across the globe and speaks about the struggles of educating the community about HIV/AIDS in Punjab.

I studied the menace of HIV/AIDS in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda but shame shrouded every where in the world. It has been my personal experience that about ten years ago I was discouraged and tried to be dispirited by a number of religious and social organizations in Punjab (India), asking me not to talk about this evil in public. The community leaders at that time were under the wrong perception that talking about pre-marital, extra-marital sex and adultery in public was immoral and unethical.

What is the role of religious beliefs in understanding and sympathizing with those who have been infected with HIV or diagnosed with AIDS?

As a result of notional misunderstanding of philosophy, religions in the past denounced those who fell ill with the virus that causes AIDS. Such religious forerunners advocated that fate of the victims was divine punishment for their immoral behaviour. They believed that those who die of AIDS, will go direct to hell. Surely, the followers at that time fell short to understand the inner depth of the religious concepts. They forgot to conceptualize that service to sick, needy and vulnerable people was in fact the leading service to the humanity and Almighty Lord. Inattentiveness of social and religious overlords provided little or no support or co-operation to people struggling against the disease due to the nature of its main modes of transmission, including sex chaos and intravenous drug use. Instead of helping the needy people, even the political leaders used human beings either as a commodity or an object of political manipulation or an element of the production and consumption machine only.

The piece goes onto discuss how Sikh leaders have responded to the growing epidemic in Punjab.

Religion provides us with important moral and ethical guidelines and supports us in addressing the day to-day problems mounting in the society. Keeping in view the universal challenges thrown out by HIV/AIDS, the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib (temporal and spiritual throne of the Sikhs) issued an appeal to the global people during the year 2006 to help curb the menace of AIDS in the world. The Jathedar also led the huge rally from Amritsar to Khadur Sahib (India) in which thousands of youth participated. Such constructive campaigns are needed to be organized by other religious and spiritual leaders to stem the transmission of HIV.

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