Thursday, December 21, 2006

test this

I’m like the kid in the room, with an alice band in my hair (apparently the cool kids call it a head band, but I insist) perched on a desk with my legs swinging, as my editor discusses the edits for the next day. Andra Pradesh just called for compulsory HIV testing before marriage and everyone seems to agree that this is a violation of individual rights. As does the Express.

Which is really ironic. Yesterday I was reading about it and started browsing through comments left in the BBC’s ‘Have Your Say’ section. One of them really struck a nerve. Most of the people who objected were from the US, Canada and other Western countries. And their objection was pretty much limited to the fact that they assumed the government was frowning on people’s sex lives. One poster from this side of the planet pointed out, rightly, that HIV was an enormous issue in India and since most weddings are arranged and women have no control over their husbands sex lives, this is one way of ensuring they won’t contract AIDS right off the bat.

But health issues aside there is another question. Now the state wants to make sure that in 2007 there are no babies born with HIV. Which begs a serious question -- If found to be positive, what happens? Does the state now have the right to stop you from getting married? This is even a larger violation of privacy than the HIV test, which I think is a good idea- [when you apply for your marriage license, hand in your blood test results] – but the question de jour then becomes: what can (and cannot) the government do with this information?

Biases, stigma, prejudice, discrimination; we’re all too familiar with these realities. If medical records were easily available things would be very different. Perhaps there would have been no partition if we all knew Jinnah wasn’t going to last long, but I digress. The objection being raised in some quarters is that the state should not order this mandatory test, ‘its too big brother’, but some health authorities should. And what about the fact that when tested positive (and if this is known publicly) this will lead to social isolation- one of the main obstacles this disease has faced since the beginning?

A very interesting argument, which supported what I think, offered this comparison: Making this test compulsory is the same as making vaccination compulsory for children. In the end, if this is a matter of personal choice, it means that the nation does not have a fundamental right to defend itself against plague (or what have you). So even if I know a disease is on the rampage, it is MY choice not to take any preventive measures and thereby risk not only contracting it, but also spreading it. What is your reaction?

I find it fairly interesting that while I am very open-minded about personal choices, I tend to be big on social responsibility. Maybe it is because I'm the kid in the room and haven't taken my blinders off. So let me try -- the real question is this: what is the real implication of such a test? The authority that has these results in its hand, in this case the state government, can one trust it enough to be sure this won’t be the beginning of a HIV-cleansing (if you will). But if we are being hypothetical, then why not consider that the mere existence of this test might encourage younger people- even married couples (if its made compulsory every couple of years) to behave responsibly. Because ultimately, for the most part this is a behavioral disease and with adequate pre caution, can be totally avoided.

So, if we look at the conduct of everyone else who performs a job, why not at the citizens? It’s in our countries best interest to remain as healthy as possible. Somehow the larger picture constantly eludes us.


Procrastinx said...

Intresting point that you have raised -- what the government intends to do with the results ?? The implications are different if the groom is tested positive versus the bride being tested positive. Will the results be made public?
The govt might not be able to stop marriages from happening since most couples apply for marriage certificates after the marriage happenes. But again , marriage certificates are applied only by citi folk and there is little awareness in the rural and uneducated people regarding registration of marriages.. So the big question that comes up is -- will this really be of effect with the mediocore awareness in our society.

Anonymous said...

I think the idea to have a test is a good one. Opposition is bound to be there; mainly because marriage is considered a very personal thing, especially in the west.... in the sense that the choices are made by the two, unlike in the west wherein many other people and other social parameters come into play. So, the criticism in the west isn't so surprising.

The test idea per se is a good one. But people, esp in India, are going to take quite some time to get used to it. The angle you have given.. about what will happen if one of two turns out to be positive... is quite pertinent, and I don't think anyone has seriously thought over this. Imagine the chaos that will follow...

Anonymous said...

I'm unsure of the effectiveness of this. To begin with, how many people actually register themselves (court marrige etc.)?

When my brother got married and went for his marriage certificate he had to have a gazhetted officer witness and sign-off. Since my brother found this curious- he asked the officer how accessible people like him were to everyone. He smiled and replied - "bhaisaab - how many people do you think get a marriage certificate? only folks like yourself who need it for a passport or visa get these certs."

Interesting. Now I'm trying not to generalize this across the country - but it does raise an important concern - how preventative is this testing (at this level)?

How far will you take it? - Baby is born - conduct a test? Or maybe its the first test you take when you go in to see a doctor (for any ailment). And then what? - quarantined camps for HIV postive folks? In short, it comes back to the same question right? - how many men (& women) are allowed to be comprimised for the survival of the larger majority? - 1?... 50? 1,000,000?

Irony strikes hardest in these moments as I realize that only the most inhumane has the capacity to enact a series of events to save... humanity. Scary and sounds an awful lot like the justification of a dictator.