The book titled এইডস ও যৌনতা নিয়ে ডিসকোর্স:রোগীর প্রান্তিকতা [Discourse around AIDS and Sexuality: Understanding Patient’s Marginalization] by Manosh Chowdhury and Saydia Gulrukh from Rupantor Prokashona (2000) is basically a research-based literary work. It focuses on different aspects of sexual practices, its deviation and significance in the dissemination of a life-threatening disease known as “AIDS” and the disputable developmental agenda of the so-called developmental organizations. The book is devised into four chapters. The satirical representation of the magnitude of the research problem with cartoons added a different dimension to the publication.
I came across this book at a time when I was just a fresh medical graduate. As my background would tell, I was pretty much well-oriented about the debilitating disease called “AIDS” with its various stigmata due to its strong connection with sexual practices, more popularly labelling it as a common “Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)”. I voraciously devoured the book for quenching many of my queries about some firmly held social dogma and popular misconceptions centering the disease. As soon as I completed the book, I decided not to be a critique because the questions that can be collaboratively formed from this “discourse” is plainly well validated.
The questionable roles of the NGOs, the demarcation of a specific “at risk”/”target” group and the publicity of “AIDS” having a strong co-relation with sexual practices (i.e. polygamists, brothel goers or homosexuals) leads to the shortlisting of a specific group who can be targeted as the “vulnerable group”; the core argument that this work has made in layers allows the reader to visualize a clearly delineated set of propaganda, policies and agendas that is targeted towards this “vulnerable group which can contaminate the disease to the society”.
The authors amazed me by raising some interesting questions that forced people to think out of the box. To my surprise, in my early medical years, I discovered that even in medical science, there is a stereotype around AIDS patients that they belong to a specific social background, have some specific occupation or that they come from a specific geographical area etc. Sometimes, medical history is elicited with particular focus on the “deviant” sexual behaviour of the patient. The questions raised by these authors can alleviate the traditional “superstitions” that is often firmly held by the commoners and flourished over the decades for some strongly held medical prejudices.
The key argument laid out in the book could pretty much be a topic of debate: how the social activities and campaigns against AIDS are viewing root level people, moreover, how women are falling into a “more vulnerable category” as the social awareness programs against AIDS triumphantly marched throughout the country back in 2000. Or more precisely, the basic question the book asks is, whether targeting a group of people for these activities based on occupational, geographical and habitual variations are making them more stigmatized and outcast from the core society.
The authors have splendidly exposed the extremely disputed relationship of polygamy/homosexuality with the spread of AIDS. The exaggerated public representation of norms/values as an essential part of awareness campaigns (e.g. “staying in a monogamous relationship”, “sex with trusted partners”, “avoiding sex with prostitutes” etc) established the idea that the disease predominantly “spreads through sexual behaviour”. The discussion sums up the fact that the widespread stigmatization of sexuality with a life-threatening disease and the formulation of policies firmly based on the presumptive dogma is a way of ostracizing a specific group of people. The awareness campaigns are financed, supported and funded by responsible organizations which basically outlines the role of governance between the developed and developing countries. The role of women in the aspect of sexuality and in the perspective of the disease has been well documented. It shows how women are subjected to masculine dominance and how their vulnerable position in patriarchal society easily makes them the “bait” of any policy.
One of the authors sarcastically sums up the entire theme in his witty and humour-filled cartoons, an addition which made the book more palatable while keeping a sharp eye on many issues. Surprisingly, it was very heartening to discover that this piece of work hadn’t been significantly highlighted after its publication in 2000 considering the social circumstances that prevailed then. The magnitude of its focus was invariably ignored or embraced with silence from the popular socio-economic forums, the developmental agencies and also the academia. However, ironically the propaganda and manifestos full of misconceptions and prejudices reigned during that decade while a blind eye was turned to this work.
I personally appreciate the effort of the authors for conceptualizing sexuality in an era of capitalistic medical domination. The flourish of developmental agendas delineating the moral practices of sexuality is something that can be contemplated deeply. The setting up of moral rules are of little effect, rather it gives birth to more taboos among the mainstream value-holders. An outstanding piece of work, the book undoubtedly leaves some imprints and raises some questions against the entire system.
Proma Orchi is a Medical doctor.