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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 08:56 GMT 09:56 UK
'Why can't people with HIV marry?'
By Rajan Chakravarty
BBC Delhi bureau

HIV positive couple
Seven HIV positive couples have got married with the bureau's help
"I have come here because I want to get married. I am HIV positive," says Rasik Bhai, a 31-year-old diamond polisher.

"We are a marriage bureau. You have to give us some details about you, about your family background, about yourself, " replies Daksha Patel, with a pleasant smile.

It is a typical day at work for the woman who runs India's first marriage bureau for HIV positive people.

Part of an non-governmental organisation (NGO) working with HIV-positive people in the western Indian state of Gujarat, the bureau has so far helped seven couples to get married.

I have been living happily with my husband all these years - without problems, so why can't these people get married?
Daksha Patel

Among those looking for a bride is Rasik Bhai. He has to convince the bureau he is capable of taking care of his wife.

Daksha asks him how much he earns.

"My income is 3,000 rupees," he replies.

"You will have to look after yourself and your wife - you are both HIV positive, maybe you will have to spend on medicines," says a concerned Daksha.

"Will you be able to manage all this with your income?"

Good business

A steady stream of people move in and out of the modest one-room office of the marriage bureau.

Daksha Patel
Daksha Patel in the bureau

A prospective bride-seeker insists the bureau should find a match from his caste only.

Another tall man looks aghast when told that no girl presently registered with the bureau wants to marry someone of his height.

I ask Daksha Patel what prompted her to start the bureau.

"The idea of starting a marriage bureau came when I began to work with the NGO here.

"I came across a number of men who were HIV positive, also lot of women, some of them young widows.

"They all had one question - should they get married?"

She adds: "Besides, there was a lot of social pressure - pressure from family to get married.

Living happily

"I am married myself. A few months after my marriage I found out I was HIV positive.

I just wanted a husband who can understand me - and who can provide for three square meals a day
Nimisha Patel

"I have been living happily with my husband all these years - without problems, so why can't these people get married?"

Over the past few months, the number of people who have registered with the bureau has steadily increased.

Not surprising in a town like Surat, where more than 2,500 people have tested positive for HIV.

The city of 2.4m people is the headquarters of India's diamond cutting and polishing centre and has a large population of migrant workers.

Kamlesh Patel, a diamond polisher, got married last December after registering with Daksha's marriage bureau.

"I was not very keen for marriage. There was pressure from home," he said.

"I saw my wife on several occasions at the support group meetings. I never thought she would marry me.

"Daksha asked me if I wanted to marry - but I repeatedly refused.

"Then last November - during the festival of Navratri - we used to meet in the evenings. Then I decided to get married."

Helping out

Now Kamlesh is a part-time counsellor with the bureau.

It seems a new life has begun for me after coming here
Kamlesh Patel

He says his association with the NGO that runs the marriage bureau has been a life-changing experience for him.

"It seems a new life has begun for me after coming here.

"Earlier my weight had gone down considerably, now my health has improved.

"When I am under some stress I come here - a few meetings and I am fresh again."

Kamlesh's wife, Nimisha had been married previously. Her former husband abandoned her after she tested positive for HIV during her pregnancy.

She says she had a harrowing time in her earlier marriage.

She learnt about the marriage bureau from a doctor who had been treating her.

"I had read about this organization which worked with HIV positive people and ran a marriage bureau.

"I had come to find out more about the bureau - for the purpose of marriage only," says Nimisha.

"I did not want a very handsome person, or a very rich person.

"I just wanted a husband who can understand me - and who can provide for three square meals a day." From the broad smile on her face, it is not difficult to gauge she has found that man.

More men

The fledgling bureau has a problem though.

The bride-seekers out-number bridegroom-seekers almost ten to one.

Of the 70 people presently registered with the bureau, only eight are women.

In India, few women can afford to come in the open about their HIV status, because of the stigma attached to Aids.

Daksha is full of praise for the women who have come forward and registered with the bureau.

Indian authorities draw solace from the fact that India is still behind South Africa as the country with the largest population of HIV positive people.

A lot of NGOs, however, see India as an Aids ticking time bomb.

As the authorities and NGOs quibble over Aids statistics, and the ways and means to combat the proliferation of the dreaded virus, both agree that initiatives such as the marriage bureau for people living with HIV are a step in the right direction.

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