Aids under the lens

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Magnum Photographers have been travelling the world to tell the stories of sufferers of HIV and Aids as part of a ChristianAid project. Photographer Patrick Zachmann, whose lens tells the story of women in India, explains


I went to India on an assignment for ChristianAid. It was new territory for me even though I was visiting India for the third time in as many years. Previously I’d photographed women taking power in rural areas. But this project was about Aids and, more specifically, about the stigma of Aids in Indian society.

India seems, to people from the outside, to be a peaceful country, a peaceful people. This is absolutely true in some ways, but also totally wrong. I found parts of society to be very violent. The injustice and differences between caste and social development is very high. Violence is common against women and children.

The women I met in India living with HIV and Aids were not completely ostracised from society. It would be too strong to say that. At the moment I met them they had all gone through a very, very difficult period where they were excluded by family and neighbours, but were coming through it. I met a woman whose mother didn’t want to help her or see her, because she was fearful of catching Aids. Such women face exclusion from their own children sometimes. They really have to fight.

These women were not responsible for catching Aids. They caught it from their husbands. Women are often not told by their partners that they have Aids and are at risk of infection. I felt very strongly the unfairness that these women were infected by men who refuse to recognise or admit that they themselves have the virus.

Men die of Aids in India. This is apparently very common for because men refuse to get treated. They don’t believe they have it, so they die. When they die the villagers find out and the wife, who has caught the virus too, finds herself a widow, alone and (very often) suffering from Aids too.

One of the women I spoke to, Jyothi’s, daughter is suffering from HIV too. Jyothi kept her girl with her but had to send her boy to a monastery because she could not take care of both. The monastery is far away and it is a really tough life. She told me that when she calls him, he’s crying all the time. The girl has had treatment and both she and her mother are responding to that. Jyothi has had the virus for 10 years now. In a way, she is well. That was one of the things I found remarkable. Before meeting her I read about the case and thought ‘This is going to be terrible’. But the reality of her situation was much better. She doesn’t yet have Aids, and her HIV is managed with medication and support from NGOs.

Such women are very positive. They have faced very difficult periods and overcome them. It’s not like following somebody who is going to die. They are surviving and fighting because of their children. The women in India that I’ve met are like leaders, like tigers, and they are really fighting. It’s very sad that they are suffering, but it is encouraging to see them so strong.

Patrick and other Magnum photographers have documented people in Bolivia, Tajikistan, India, Kenya and the UK for an exhibition Stigma under the Lens . Preview the images in the above image gallery.

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