In this episode of Colourful Kamanabillu, RJ Shilok continues the special segment on ‘Diversity Dialogues’. She speaks with Ritesh Rajani, a diversity and inclusion champion with a thirteen-year background expertise in software development, about the impact of
HIV/AIDS and workplace policies. Ritesh recently moved to a full-time role focusing on Diversity and Inclusion in a quest to make workplaces and the world a more equitable place for everyone.
Statistics from 2015 state that there 2.1 million people living with HIV in India. In spite of this staggering number, AIDS remains a taboo topic of discussion. “While access to testing and screening may have improved, there is a lot more to do in terms of the treatment and care,” says Ritesh. Diversity Dialogues helps people living with HIV lead more fulfilling lives. HIV can affect anybody, but members of the LGBTQIA+ community are especially vulnerable to the infection.
“The biggest problem is in the mindset of people,” says Ritesh. People tend to hesitate to share or to discuss HIV and AIDS in public. At the workplace, the conditions are much more restrictive. Many policies and support schemes exist in India, but people continue to feel uncomfortable about the topic.
The government, however, has done a fair bit by creating the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). The Rajya Sabha has also passed a bill called the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, which stipulates that anti-retroviral therapy is a legal right. It also defines what behaviour constitutes discrimination against people living with HIV. It also prohibits HIV testing being tagged as a prerequisite for access to employment and educational opportunities. Also, prior to any HIV testing, the concerned person’s consent is paramount and the results have to be handled with confidentiality.
There needs to be an open conversation about people living with HIV to ensure that their lives are not looked at as being deficient. Ritesh feels that a few changes need to be made in the health policies of the Indian workplace. “It’s not about the legal mandate, it’s also about the philosophy of the company to not discriminate against somebody just because they are HIV-positive.” Companies should include HIV screenings in their health packages, and HIV-awareness should not be excluded from the company newsletter. Organisations should also cover HIV in their medical insurance packages. While addressing the physical needs of its employees, the companies must also have an Employee Assistance Program in support of better mental health.
Diversity Dialogues is already setting an example through its online videos that discuss HIV, mental health, and the Employee Assistant Program.
Written by Poushali Banik.