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HIV-Positive Woman To Be Congress Candidate In Assam

A 29-year-old HIV-positive woman in Assam is all set for a plunge into politics by becoming the ruling Congress party candidate for next month's assembly elections.//

Jahnabi Goswami is expected to be the party's candidate from the Barhampur assembly constituency in eastern Assam's Nagaon district, about 140 km from here.

Former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is the sitting legislator from Barhampur.

"I am contesting the elections on the Congress ticket and this would be a big challenge for me and the cause for which I am fighting to save people from getting infected with HIV," Goswami told IANS.

"I was requested by several senior Congress leaders to fight the elections saying that there is a need for people like me who can become future policy makers, especially in issues related to fighting the HIV-AIDS menace in the region," Goswami said.

The response in her hometown of Kampur in the Barhampur constituency was ecstatic once she accepted the offer of contesting the polls. The state goes to the polls to elect a 126-member legislature on April 3 and April 10.

"Men and women are thronging my home and the mood is already euphoric with people saying they would do whatever is required to help me win the polls," a jubilant Goswami said.

"I shall harp on health-related issues in my poll campaign to make pre-marital AIDS tests mandatory."

Goswami is one of the few women in India fighting to raise awareness of the disease and one of an even smaller number to have publicly declared that she is HIV-positive.

In 1994 Goswami married a wealthy businessman in Guwahati in a traditional ceremony. "Soon after my marriage I found that my husband was often ill, complaining of various ailments from herpes to fever and coughs," she said.

Her husband died in 1996 but he had already infected her with the killer virus. And two years later in 1998, her daughter Kostorika too died of the disease. But Goswami's ordeal was not limited to losing her loved ones.

"Soon after my husband died, my parents-in-law chased me out of their home and I went back to my parents," she said.

Now Goswami is a counselor with the AIDS Control Society in Assam.

"I went public to say I was a woman living with HIV. The idea was to fight against the social stigma attached to the disease and help innocent women like me from contracting the virus," Goswami said. But she faced prejudice after her brave admission.

"After I got the job, I returned to Guwahati and stayed in rented accommodation. But the moment the flat owner came to know of my HIV-positive status I was asked to vacate the house immediately," she said, adding she had to move a dozen times for the same reason.

"Today I am targeting students in Assam and trying to make them aware about how to prevent AIDS and how the virus spreads," Goswami said.

"I find even the most educated sections of the society lack awareness on AIDS. "I want to live a life with dignity and show people how to avoid a silent and painful death."

She said her message was simple: "Enjoy life, but with a little bit of caution."

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