Richard Gere who has been actively involved in India, supporting various social and political (Tibetan Independence) causes, is vigorously campaigning against AIDS. He has joined hands with Mr. Parameshwar Godrej to launch a three year initiative called "Heroes Project".
His brother, David Gere - Assistant Professor of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA, has been putting up his own AIDS awareness program - Make Art/Stop AIDS.
Recently, Richard Gere with the help of the South Indian Cine Artists, organized a cultural program to promote AIDS Awareness. The program was held in Hyderabad with many stars getting involved and performing on stage. The stars include Chiranjeevi, Kamal Hassan, Nagarjuna, Sharat Kumar & Radhika, Venkatesh, Revathi and other new entrants.
The intention of the program was noble. However, I feel that the focus was lost as there was no substance in the message. Every now and then, between two performances, some star who can neither dance nor sing, walked to the stage and said "We should stop AIDS. AIDS is dangerous" and that was all. There was no emphasis on AIDS prevention, the facilities available,information about AIDS Care Centres, symptoms and the risks of extra-marital affairs.
It was funny when Radhika and Sarath talked about how they met, commitment... . It served more as a reassurance of their relationship to each other than it seemed like a message to the public.
It is an irony that they along with Kamal, Nagarjuna... were chosen as ambassadors for an AIDS initiative. May be they are "pure". May be they take neccessary precautions. But it didn't get conveyed. Ridden with a personal life of sex-controversies, divorces or re-marriages, all of the above stars and most of the others who were present, were best fit only to talk about "precautions" and "safety". But, they didn't choose to touch that subject.
The need of the hour, my friends, is frankness and acceptance of the reality. With India and in India, Tamilnadu almost topping the charts for the number of AIDS patients in the world, we cannot claim to be a conservative society. Come on, how long can we pretend to be a "One man- one wife" society and deny what is out in the open.
When Kushboo frankly spoke about pre-marital sex and urged girls to be smart and use safety precautions, she was ridiculed by the entire Nadu. The Dalit Panthers and the PMK from the political arena were joined by the same cine association to condemn one of their very own Star for what seemed to be the most appropriate statement in the fight against AIDS. They started talking about "Tamil culture", "karpu"...
How in the world are we going to spread awareness with this kind of an attitude? To gain political mileage in the Dravidian state, these so called activists are detrimental to a much required fight against a monster which has already affected 5.1 million Indians and if left could spread to 20 million more by 2010. For facts check here.
There is a big mis-conception that rural India is where AIDS is spreading rapidly. And the reason cited is illiteracy. I beg to differ. Many people are very aware of the repercussions of stepping into unsafe territories - yet they do it due to the urge and the lack of safety measures at that point in time.
This is because of the time constraints that they are forced into such situations. Imagine the situation of a young boy and girl who are attracted to each other. Unless they choose to wait till marriage, there is no way they are going to find the required time and place to get together. If they find a place, they don't have enough time. Obviously, they are not going to waste any more of the less time that they have thinking about what is morally right and wrong or shopping for what is required for precautions. The case is the same for extra-marital indulgences. When emotion kicks in, brain stops working.
1. The society needs to accept the reality. This will allow for people to follow their mind without having to fear of being outcast from the society.
2. Morality needs to be imbibed from a very young age. It's not enough, if we just have a sex-education class in school for 30 minutes when they attain the age of 15 or so. It has to be implanted into the individual's character from childhood. Only then it will be a reflexive action to say "no" without having to think at the crucial point.
3. Women are nor more sacred than men. For every man that steps out of matrimony, we should accept that there is a woman who is knowingly or unknowingly involved. I am only talking about heterosexual relationships here. The western society seems to have accepted this very well. India should be willing to digest this fact and open up to the reality.
World Aids Day falls on December 1st. Let us hope that the awareness programs are modified to address the causes, symptoms, cure and counseling facilities rather than the surface level entertainment that does nothing more than heat up individuals to go looking for partners forgetting the underlying cause.