June 17, 2003
"In India, a majority of parents visit astrologers with horoscopes of the bride and the groom to find out if the couple will stay happy after marriage," said Goswami, a resident of the northeast Indian state of Assam. "But from my personal experience, instead of matching horoscopes, it would be wise if the couple go for a blood test to rule out being HIV-positive." Goswami is one of the few women in India fighting to raise AIDS awareness -- and one of an even smaller number who have publicly declared they are HIV-positive.
While government figures put the number of HIV-positive Indians at 4 million -- an epidemic second in size only to South Africa's -- unofficial estimates suggest the true number is closer to 5 million. A recent U.S. study predicted 20 million to 25 million Indians would be HIV-infected by 2010. The UN recently warned several Asian nations, including India, to take swift and decisive action to prevent AIDS from reaching epidemic proportions. Some 100,000 HIV patients live in India's northeast, which borders the heroin-producing "Golden Triangle" of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand and has high rates of IV drug use.
Soon after her "traditional Indian style" wedding to a wealthy businessman in 1994, Goswami realized her husband was frequently taken ill. A few days before his death, in 1996, he told her he had AIDS. Soon after, her in-laws, who accused her of infecting their son, chased Goswami from their home, and she returned to her parents. In 1998, Goswami's daughter also died of AIDS. Landlords, upon learning her condition, have forced her to move more than a dozen times. Now Goswami spreads the news of HIV prevention as a counselor with the AIDS Control Society in Assam.