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.