On the evening of 26th November, 2011, I just happened to be passing by the TV in my bed room – to go to the toilet. I noticed that the TV was on idle mode. On an impulse, I pushed the “ON” button on the remote and punched in the numbers “11” without intending to actually watch whatever BBS was broadcasting at that time - it was an impulsive act. A half-hearted sideways glance on the screen showed that the BBS was showing a live panel discussion anchored but Dawa. The three panelists consisted of two medical doctors and one High Court judge. Curious to know what was being discussed, I retraced my steps to take a closer look at the TV.
I realized that I was towards the fag-end of the program. I was about to shut off the TV when I heard Dawa say that the BBS TV would be hosting a live show on the 1st of December, when he will showcase four persons who have been tested HIV/AIDS positive.
Consternation stuck me! WHATTTTTTTTTT??????
As the enormity of the tragedy of what they were planning began to sink into me, my mind was a tumultuous mess. It was so numbed that it couldn’t register much of what was being said. But I have hazy memories of what Dawa was saying and what the doctors were saying and what the judge was saying.
Dawa the anchor justified that the parading of the 4 HIV/AIDS positive cases would be in the larger interest of the people of Bhutan.
One of the doctors on the panel actually claimed that HIV is no longer the scourge that we believe it is – he claimed that it is as common as cancer or any other chronic disease. The other doctor who is supposed to be the head of some HIV/AIDS related organization claimed that the 4 persons have volunteered to come on the show – live! and that it is a first of its kind in the world.
The High Court judge rattled off some mumbo jumbo about the Constitution providing adequate protection against abuse of the individual right and the individual dignity of every Bhutanese individual.
All of the three panelists and Dawa the Anchor made it sound like it was all hunky dory and went on to assure us that there is a need for this cause célèbre.
I am amazed at the naivety of it all. Doctors and judges endorsing this 15 minutes of fame seem to ignore the devastating and life altering consequences – not so much to the 4 persons willing to appear live on TV, but hundreds of others – who will be affected by this misguided show of bravado and a misplaced sense of righteousness.
There are certain ethical and moral and legal issues that these people who have cajoled the 4 persons to come on live on the BBS TV, need to understand.
For the doctors: What do your professional code of ethics and conduct say – about encouraging your terminally ill patients with socially unacceptable disease, to reveal their identities on the national TV? Can your behavior be considered ethical – in advising and encouraging them to undertake a step that leaves them wide open to unfathomable reactions and, even ostracization from friends, relatives, co-workers and the rest of the society?
To the Judge: In quoting the Constitution and reminding us of the protection it accords us from abuse of individual rights, are you saying that there are legal provisions in the law that will protect these 4 persons (and their numerous family, spouses, children, siblings) from discrimination by individuals and society? Are there laws in place which could be applied, should they suffer ostracization as a result of public declaration of their illness?
To BBS TV: As a public service broadcaster, do you believe that you are doing the society at large a service by broadcasting a program that may well subject a huge number of people to discrimination, acts of intolerance and prejudice? Are you prepared to be an accessory to the ensuing disruption of life and happiness of a large number of people that the broadcast of the program may cause? Have you considered that these 4 HIV/AIDS positive persons may be willing but what of the others associated with them? Have you considered that you stand to jeopardize the lives and happiness of others associated with these 4 persons – who haven’t given their consent to the public disclosure of their conditions and who, either because they are ignorant or because their condition is still a secret, live a life of relative ordinariness?
To the 4 HIV/AIDS positive persons: What exactly do you hope to achieve by going public with your sickness? What will you tell the people that they do not already know about the consequences of contacting HIV/AIDS? Have you considered the consequences, once the 30 minutes glare is over?
Please remember that you do not exist in isolation. You are a part of the human society. You have parents; you have wives, children, friends, employers, employees, co-workers, landlords, tenants and sex partners. One way or the other, they identify with you – they are intrinsically linked to you and what you do will impact them - irreversibly.
Do you have their concurrence to draw them into something that they may not be willing to be drawn into? If not, who gave you the right to jeopardize their lives and happiness, and anonymity? Do you realize that their lives may already be affected as a result of your illness? Are you repentant about the fact that your spouses, your children and others may already be going through misery and unhappiness – because of you? How responsible are you being – in wanting to aggravate the situation further – by declaring to the world that you are a HIV/AIDS carrier?
Please remember that you are not alone in this. Lots of others who love you and care for you and who have stood by you all this while will be affected by your action - the outcome of which is as yet unfathomable.
Please remember that your children may lose friends in school – no one may want to sit next to them. In the vegetable market, your spouse may stand out like an oddity – a bull in a Chinese shop. You may get thrown out of your flat. You may have had sex with others who still are unaware of your dreaded disease – once you come out in the open, they will know. Imagine their misery and their anguish. Imagine how many lives you stand to ruin and bring to a stand still.
No amount of education has been able to squash the misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS. It is still looked upon as a disease that is abhorable and highly contagious.
In every part of the world, without exception, discrimination is looked upon as something that is undesirable. Governments and societies around the world legislate laws that are designed to fight discrimination. And yet, there is no society in the world that is free of discrimination. Bhutan is no different. Therefore, the contention that these four people and their kith and kin will not be discriminated against is something I am not willing to accept. Our proven records show otherwise.
In conclusion, I appeal to the management and the Anchor of BBS TV to withdraw the broadcasting of the program on 1st December where they will present the 4 persons with HIV/AIDS. Even if they insist on going ahead with it, I hope they will be reasonable enough to seek the consent and concurrence of the other people who stand to be affected by the broadcast.