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Carrying condoms mandatory for Assam Rifles soldiers
Sankar P Ghosh in Shillong | October 05, 2005 13:23 IST
Facing a new enemy, the Assam Rifles is readying itself for an all-out war against HIV/AIDS with an unprecedented strategy -- it has made mandatory for all its personnel to carry a packet of condoms.
With 133 personnel already infected by the killer HIV/AIDS, this unique directive from the Assam Rifles' top brass is aimed at saving its rank and file from further onslaught of the pandemic.
Carrying condoms was made compulsory for the northeast-specific force as the region is vulnerable to the killer virus for more than one reasons. With the jawans hailing from all parts of the country and away from their families for long, the protection would save them from getting infected.
That the Assam Rifles is combating the menace on a 'war footing' is evident from its Director General Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh's action plan. He minced no words in admitting that more jawans were dying because of AIDS than due to direct military action.
"We accept the menace and do not deny it in the force. The trend is increasing as the first case was detected way back in 1992, while the last one only four days back," he said.
Most jawans were infected by sexual contact although drug abuse was also a common problem in the northeast," Singh said adding, many of the jawans acquire it from women who take drugs.
The general said since the force was meant for the northeast and would be staying in the region only, the menace would have to be fought at any cost.
The 170-year-old paramilitary force created purely to address the security needs of the region, also took upon itself to address health, education and social issues plaguing different states over the years.
Notwithstanding the problem at hand, the Assam Rifles authorities did not discharge a single HIV-infected soldier from service. On the contrary, it arranged medical treatment and gave proper counselling, spending Rs 2 crore annually not only on the infected, but also on other jawans to minimise the damage.
Lt Gen Singh said besides an awareness campaign on HIV/AIDS among the jawans to help them fight it, the force was also identifying "weak areas" like Dimapur, Tezpur and other transit points and trying to "insulate" these places.
Recently, an underground outfit of the region issued a press release saying it was using some HIV-infected women to "neutralise" the security forces. Describing the menace as a security threat, the DG said the disease posed a threat to the economic, human and even traditional notion of security.
The world community has recognised HIV/AIDS as a security issue in the sense that it challenges human security, threatens social, political and economic stability as well as the military.
Assam Rifles Wives Welfare Association was not sitting idle either. To contribute to the cause, it chalked out a "slightly different and more challenging path" rather than taking a "conventional route", said its president and DG's spouse Winnie Singh.
ARWWA had in April 2005 hosted a 'commitment' talkshow, roadshow, screened AIDS-related movies like My Brother Nikhil and Phir Milenge and flew in Bollywood celebrities like Shilpa Shetty, Deepti Naval among others. It tied up with some non-governmental organisations to get President A P J Abdul Kalam to inaugurate a two-day conclave on the same topic to sensitise the young and the old.
To counter the AIDS threat, the Assam Rifles established an immuno-deficiency centre hospital at Sukhovi and upgraded four 30-bed exisiting unit hospitals to 50-bed nodal centres to function as treatment centres with specialist services for HIV/AIDS cases apart from being referral centres for TB, psychiatric diseases and malaria at Shillong, Lokhra and Silcharar.