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By Our Reporter | Shillong, Aug 29, 2018: 

The ‘HIV/AIDS’ controversial remarks made by the Chief Executive Member (CEM) of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), HS Shylla few days back has struck a ‘sensitive’ chord with People living with HIV (PLHIV) demanding an immediate apology from the District Council chief for making such ‘derogatory’ statements.

“HIV did not discriminate anybody, so why is he discriminating us. You cannot attribute an epidemic to only one section (migrant workers/truck drivers from outside the state),” Board member of Meghalaya State Network of Positive People (MSNPP), Barry L Kharmalki, who is also living with HIV, said on Wednesday.

It may be mentioned that KHADC Chief had recently attributed mixed-marriages with truck drivers, migrant workers from outside the state, who he referred to as ‘carriers of the virus’, as the reason behind the rise of the epidemic in the state even as he stated that the Khasi Lineage Bill 2018 will act as a ‘preventive’ measure to protect the Khasi community from HIV/AIDS.

ALSO WATCH HS SHYLLA CLARIFYING HIS STATEMENT

Condemning the statement made by Shylla, Kharmalki said that his ‘stupid’ statement is very stigmatizing and discriminatory in nature, targeting only a certain group of people and pointing out that only those groups contribute to the HIV epidemic in the state, which is totally ‘false’.

“His statement is based only on assumptions. He does not have facts, but we do. Every person from all walks of life, without stigmatizing any group, contributes to this epidemic. He is hurting the sentiments of the people. He is inciting fear and hatred. Are we assuming all truck drivers from outside, all non-tribals have HIV?” asked Kharmalki.

Presenting the figures, the MSNPP member said that as per the statistics received from Anti-Retroviral Therapy Centre (ARTC), the number of registered sex workers  in Meghalaya is 90 out of which only 3 are non-tribals and 87 are Khasis; Out of 146 truck drivers living with HIV, 17 are non-tribals and 129 are Khasis; out of 127 Injecting Drug Users living with HIV, 52 are non-tribals and 75 are Khasis; out of 3102 heterosexual cases, 624 are non-tribals and 2478 are Khasis.

ALSO READ | Meghalaya | We do not recognise third gender: KHADC CEM Shylla

“So how can you say the virus was spread by truck drivers, migrant workers and non-tribals, when as per the reports, the figures point to another direction. We don’t think this bill (Khasi Lineage Bill) will prevent anything,” said Kharmalki.

Reacting to Shylla’s clarification on the matter, Kharmalki said “It is interesting to learn that just few days ago, Shylla had no idea about the subject and the statement he made was all based on assumptions and suddenly today, he knows even the names of the medicines.”

On the KHADC Chief’s statement on ‘hate the sin, not the sinner’, Kharmalki asked “Are we sinners just because we contracted the disease? And don’t call us victims; Do we look like victims to you? This is a sensitive issue, he should learn how to use his words carefully.”

ALSO WATCH MSNP MEMBER REACTING ‘STRONGLY’ TO SHYLLA’S STATEMENT

Meanwhile, President of Jaintia Network for Positive People, Ridahun Ksoo echoed similar views stating that Shylla’s statement is highly condemnable. “As a network, we don’t subscribe to his views on the subject because clearly, he has very little knowledge about this,” she said.

Similarly, another person living with HIV and counselor, V Lamare (name changed) said “My husband is not a non-tribal; he is a Khasi, but we are living with HIV. And if you check the figures, almost 90 percent of the females living with HIV have Khasi husbands. So how can you pin point one particular group?”

This is a sensitive matter, Lamare said adding that more than the disease, it is the discrimination which gives them more pain.

The groups have also come up with a few suggestions for KHADC Chief — “Consult us if you want to learn more about the epidemic and its current status in our state, launch aggressive campaigns, organize workshops, concentrate on preventive measures, counselings and the likes.”

ALSO READ | Meghalaya | KHADC to further improve various proviso of Khasi Lineage Bills

When asked whether Shylla’s statement violates any provisio of HIV &AIDS Prevention Act 2017, Kharmalki replied “Yes, it does and if found guilty, he is liable for prosecution with jail time and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.”

Kharmalki points to Section 37 of the Act which states that Shylla is liable to be prosecuted for contravening Section 4 of the Act.

Section 4 says, “No person shall, by words, either spoken or written, publish, propagate, advocate or communicate by signs or by visible representation or otherwise the feelings of hatred against any protected persons or group of protected person in general or specifically or disseminate, broadcast or display any information, advertisement or notice, which may reasonably be construed to demonstrate an intention to propagate hatred or which is likely to expose protected persons to hatred, discrimination or physical violence. Anyone who violates this Section shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three months but which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both.”

In line with this, the PLHIV, MSNPP and JNPP have demanded an ‘apology’ from the KHADC Chief while stating that if Shylla refuses to retract his statement, they will approach some national lawyers specialized in this field and will not hesitate taking out a mass rally.

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