Melava+ 2011, a matrimonial meet for People Living with HIV (report)

On Sunday 7 August 2011, Deep Griha Society’s DISHA and Wake Up Pune teams and Santulan hosted Melava+, their second annual matrimonial event for people living with HIV. Though people living with HIV (PLHIV) can live a full and healthy life with the help of ART medications, they often have trouble finding a life partner. Based in a belief that all people have the right to get married if they choose, Meleva+ provides a platform for PLHIV to find a life partner, community, love and happiness.

While four couples officially announced their upcoming marriages at the event, nine other couples are seriously considering marriage.

“This is a record-breaking number,” Avinash Chakranarayan, DISHA Team Leader noted, “We are very excited for each of these couples.”

Other attendees chose to exchange numbers with potential partners or friends and to meet again later. Unlike in most situations in the candidates’ lives, HIV-positive people were the majority and were openly supported instead of stigmatised.

Held at Abul Kalam Hall in Koregaon Park, the event welcomed over 150 people living with HIV, including more than 50 women. Candidates mostly came from Maharashtra, but some candidates traveled from as far as Gujurat, Andra Pradesh and Karnataka. Travel costs for all female participants was sponsored by the organisers. The positive candidates were joined by a similar number of family members, all eager to help find prospective partners for their kin. The day started with breakfast and a number of icebreakers and games, varying from pretend greetings from other planets, to questions about hopes and fears, to speed dating.

Though different from the traditional matrimonial format, the games got people laughing and helped them to get to know each other better. While the candidates were playing games, parents and family members spoke with a renowned psychologist and watched several short films about HIV.

Now seven months pregnant, Ganga, an HIV-positive woman who got married as a result of last year’s Melava+, encouraged family members to live positively and to never give up hope.

After lunch was served, interested candidates could talk to and interact with potential partners. All food was catered by Santulan’s newly trained caterers—all ex-addicts who have recently finished a 15-day detox programme.

Melava+ was an innovative mixture of the old and the new, combining a traditional matrimonial event with a more open and transparent atmosphere for people to seek out their life partner. Unlike other matrimonial events, which attract people from the same caste, religion and state, Melava+ welcomed people from varied backgrounds, challenging many social norms. For both individuals who found partners and those who did not, the chance to meet other PLHIV was an invaluable and life-changing experience.

Many PLHIV do not otherwise have the opportunity to meet others with HIV. As Kassie Dantzler, Wake Up Pune Coordinator, explains, “Talking to others with similar challenges and experiences can be very encouraging and can instill greater hope.”

The act of publicly announcing one’s HIV-positive status was also meaningful for many people, some of whom had never done this before.

Melava+ was covered in numerous English and Marathi newspapers. We at Wake Up Pune believe that stigma and discrimination form the most significant challenge in the fight against HIV in India. Events such Melava+ raise public awareness of HIV, as well as support PLHIV in living full and happy lives.

Melava+ will be held again in August 2012.

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