Standing Firm – Story of a HIV patient

With a sturdy body, face exhibiting happiness and brimming with confidence, no one would know that 34-year-old Tshering (name changed) is a HIV/AIDs victim. A mother of two children, she epitomizes how effectively a civil society organization (CSO) like Lhaksam has managed to make her believe in herself.

But she was not what she is today. Like most of her friends, she had to walk the path of pain and fear that all HIV/AIDs patients do.

“I was a good student with lots of friends,” she reminisces, narrating several practical jokes she used to engage in. However, one practical joke changed her and shattered her dreams to be an example of a perfect woman in her village.

“At school, we used to make prank calls. While indulging in that, I became close to a man from Thimphu,” Karma recounts, her face slowly transforming from what reflected happiness to that of sadness. “It was 2006. I cannot remember the day or month. He called me to Thimphu town and asked me to wait for him in a hotel.”

Innocence and the feeling that the person was a good man, added by the fact that he was a relative of one of her friends, Karma took the path she can never forget. “I reached the hotel and after sometime, he arrived. He asked me if I wanted to drink or eat and I said I was fine,” Karma continues. She then recounts that it had become dark. She wanted to leave the hotel, but the weather gods were not with her. It began to rain heavily and continuously.

“He then gave me a key and said that I could rest in the room,” Karma says, adding she had no idea of what would come next. She remembers that the room had two beds and she rested on the bed from where she could comfortably watch television.

“After sometime, he entered the room and came very close to me. I asked what he was up-to and he replied that he also wanted to watch TV,” Karma adds.

As she takes a heavy breath, I know what would come next. “He slowly started to touch me and when I pushed him, he became angry and began touching my private parts, too,” Karma narrates, her eyes filled with tears, but ensuring that it does not drop.

“I was a virgin and so weak for him as he came onto me.” She can no longer hold the tears. I look for a tissue paper, but finding none tells her if she wants to take a break. She remains silent. I then tell her I will have a smoke and return.

As I return, she apologizes and says she is embarrassed, too. I tell her one should let go emotions and without any hesitation tells her that it was rape of a minor.

“Yes. But that time I did not know about it and I could neither tell my parents or friends as they would definitely have asked me why I went to the hotel in the first place,” she says, adding she cannot tell all that happened next.

Karma resumed her normal schedules. But fate had another shock in store. In 2008, she donated blood at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH). “I received a call from the hospital that I must do a re-test,” she says, adding that when she got the call, she even joked with her friends saying she could be HIV positive.

Her joke turned true as she was told that she was HIV positive as she reached the hospital. “Everything went blank. I cried like a child in the arms of Ata Ngawang (counselor),” she recounts, adding she had got the virus on the unfortunate day in 2006. She narrates that she had no sexual intercourse with anyone after that and adds that the man also tested positive.

She began medication in 2010. Counseled but torn, Karma joined a nunnery, where she spent 11 months. She then returned home and married in 2012. “My husband knows about my status, but I have not told any one from my family,” she says, adding she does not feel the need to dishearten her parents.

Later, she became part of Lhaksam. “I learned a lot here, starting from emotional support to being independent, handling stigma and the importance of self-esteem.” She also worked at Lhaksam as a staff. When asked if she has any message to the people, she says she has a request. “Please get rid of stigma and do not discriminate. It kills and is more terrible than the disease itself.”    

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu