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Last Updated: Friday, 21 November, 2003, 15:25 GMT
Fighting Aids on India's highways

By Sanjeev Srivastava
BBC India correspondent

Aids workers are spreading the safe sex message at India's truck stops through the medium of street theatre.

An anti-Aids street play
Theatre with a message for truckers
The spread of Aids from high-risk groups such as sex workers and lorry drivers to the general population is a key concern of those combating the disease in India, the world's second most populous nation.

This is happening because the social milieu in a poor country like India is such that preventive measures are not practised by those most vulnerable to the disease.

About 350km from Delhi, in Rajasthan state, Barasindri is a doomed village. Destiny has forced every girl born here in the past 50 years to become a sex worker.

The men's livelihood as court entertainers disappeared with the Raj and it is now up to the women to support the family. The fathers, brothers, husbands have become their pimps.

Kavita is sex worker who knows about Aids and realises that she is exposed to the deadly virus every day of her working life.

I know about Aids; but I forget using a condom every time I've had a few drinks
Lorry driver Vijay Kumar
"We were forced into this profession by our elders-now we are all worried about Aids but can't do much except insisting that every customer uses a condom," says Kavita.

But safe sex is the last thing on the minds of India's truckers. Away from home for months at a stretch, truck drivers become most reckless when they mix wine and women.

Vijay Kumar is a truck driver who visits highway brothels up to three times a day. "I know about Aids. A young man in my village even died recently," Vijay says. "But I forget using a condom every time I've had a few drinks."

Dramatic message

Healthy Highways is a focused Aids awareness programme targeting truckers. The aim is to exorcising the demon of Aids - and spread the word that condoms are vital - using street theatre performances.

Highway truckers' diner
Taking a break from the road
For these highways - which are meant to be the arteries of India's development - are now carrying the HIV virus into every corner of the country. As a result, even far flung and remote areas are turning into the disease's killing fields.

Just off the highway, it is already too late for villages such as Badgaon, where Aids has claimed a life in virtually every home.

The real tragedy of sex workers living here is that they may have heard the message advocating precaution but, being desperate and poor, they are in no position to enforce change.

What the customer wants still goes, even if it puts their health - and possibly their lives - at risk.




SEE ALSO:
Asian Aids 'ignorance' warning
16 Nov 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Aids care by motorbike in India
17 Nov 03  |  South Asia
Photo assignment: HIV in Delhi's slums
10 Nov 03  |  Photo Gallery
Indian drugs boss hails Aids deal
29 Oct 03  |  South Asia


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