Stage show and candlelight vigil help WAKE UP PUNE to support people living with HIV

“Aaiye, poori duniya ke saath sur mein sur milakar gayein… HIV positive logon ke saath haath se haath milaakar chalein.” [Let’s all come together and join hands with people living with HIV.]

That was the message delivered by Indian Idol winner Abhijeet Sawant to a crowd of thousands assembled at MG Road Walking Plaza on Sunday evening, gathered for a rally, a stage show and a candlelight vigil organised by the Wake Up Pune HIV/AIDS awareness campaign to show support for those living with and affected by HIV.

“Aur hamesha yaad rakhe, HIV/AIDS ki is jung main [always remember in the fight against HIV/AIDS]… Never give up, never forget!” added fellow Indian Idol star Amit Sana.

The spectacular show was the culmination of a week of events held in Pune to mark Global AIDS Week of Action 2008 (18-25 May). The week started on 18 May with special outdoor awareness events at Mariplex Mall and INOX Cineplex. These were followed by a ‘Positive Living and Sharing’ workshop on 20 May and a rally on 22 May to support and advocate the parliamentary HIV/AIDS Bill.

However, the crowning event was saved for Sunday.

The MG Road crowd was treated to a varied programme, featuring performances from Abhijeet Sawant (Indian Idol winner), Amit Sana (Indian Idol finalist) and Himani Kapoor (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005 finalist). There were further musical performances from Pune-based band H.I.V. and Scottish band Herman Death Willy Tail, who performed a song written specially for the Wake Up Pune campaign.

The key message? BE HIV POSITIVE. That means:

•    Positive about Education – educating ourselves and others about HIV and AIDS
•    Positive about Awareness – raising awareness in our wider community
•    Positive about Support – reaching out to people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS

Dance was also on the agenda, with a dance drama themed on ‘Stigma and Discrimination’ from Priya Joshi and her troupe, with children from the DISHA and Sweekar projects also performing dances to great acclaim from the lively MG Road crowd.

There were also short skits such as mock telephone conversations addressing issues relating to HIV/AIDS, stigma and discrimination (organised by Muktaa HIV/AIDS Helpline and Human Rights Advocate Mr. Asim Sarode). Several guest speakers shared their experiences about living with HIV, and a Wake Up Pune kiosk was set up, staffed by counsellors available to give information about HIV/AIDS and the campaign.

Perhaps most importantly, the Candlelight Vigil was observed impeccably. Each member of the audience lit a candle and took a moment to remember all who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.

“We’re delighted that so many people came together today and observed the Vigil,” Vandana Apte, from Satyam Foundation (a Wake Up Pune member). “We’ve got a long fight ahead to tackle the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV, but Punekars have shown today that they’re willing to be part of that effort.”

The evening had started at 6pm with twin rallies from Golibar Maidan (led by PCI India) and Sassoon Hospital (led by CYDA). The rallies converged at MG Road Walking Plaza in time for the stage show. Representatives from NGOs and civil society joined the rallies, and activities and games were conducted along the march routes.

Concluding the evening, Guest of Honour Mr. Bhagwan Wayal (President, Congress Sports Committee) reaffirmed the pledge he gave at last year’s event, promising to tackle HIV, educate youth and prevent discrimination. He confirmed: “We will not stigmatise people infected with HIV. We will help them to live a healthy and positive life. We will strive to make our city of Pune a place where nobody will die due to stigma about HIV and AIDS.”

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