Last month, the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control Bill) Bill, 2017 was passed in the Parliament. The bill not only aims at improving the life and longevity of those affected and help them battle HIV/AIDS, it also aims at helping them to seek redressal if they face discrimination and are denied the rights as laid down by the act. An estimated 2.1 million people in India are affected by HIV+. While things have certainly changed a lot for these people affected by the disease in India, things were exactly the same 25 years back. Had it not been for one man, the fight for the rights for people affected by HIV would have never gained so much momentum.
Twenty five years ago, in May 1992, 33-year-old Dominic D’Souza, a resident of Goa, lost his life while battling HIV+. However, Dominic, who’s also often referred to as Goa’s patient zero, before his death fought against the discrimination against HIV patients and for their legal rights. It all started in 1989 when a 29-year-old Dominic, who worked with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), was arrested from his home and was taken to the hospital. After, he was diagnosed with HIV+, he was kept in isolation by the authorities at a TB ward for 64 days under the Goa Public Health Act, which gave the state the authority to isolate HIV+ patients. Dominic legally fought and was released after 64 days post which he quit his job at the WWF and started the NGO – Positive people – along with his friend Isabel de Santa Rita Vaz. Goa’s patient zero became India’s first HIV+ activist. Dominic’s NGO was registered in mid-May and even though he died at Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai a few days later, he had already started a fight which would continue to help people for years to come.
Notably, Anand Grover, who was Dominic’s counsel during his legal battle against the authorities, continues to fight for the rights of those affected even today; he’s fulfilling his promise he made to his friend 25 years ago. Speaking to The Times of India recently about his promise, Grover said, “A promise I did not realize would have a profound impact on me. It was May 22, 1992. I got a call about Dominic being seriously ill and in Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai. I rushed there. The otherwise handsome young man was skin and bones, but he was only interested in what I was doing for HIV issues. Whether by design or accident, it became a promise that I’d continue doing legal work for HIV rights.”
The 2005 Bollywood movie – My Brother … Nikhil – directed by Onir and starring Sanjay Suri and Juhi Chawla was based on the life of Dominic D’Souza.