Urban youth most vulnerable to HIV & AIDS

AIDS Ribbon
AIDS Ribbon

The epidemic of HIV/AIDS in India has reached to a figure close to 2-3 million. The government and various other NGOs are trying their best to control the numbers. But a gloomy picture has been emerging from the IT/BPO sectors of India. Call centers where an estimated 1.3 million youth – mostly fresh out of college – are currently employed, are now said to be the new high risk areas of HIV and AIDS. Though data is still being collected – many activists agree that HIV infection is increasing steadily among the IT, BT, call centre and BPO employees.

I was doing some research and reading articles on internet on the same topic for last few days when I came across few real accounts. I was perplexed by the same.

“I did make out initially with one of my male colleagues. Sex, for all its overtones, was a great stress buster, nothing more and definitely not for money. After a few months, having a guy to go out with became one of those things on my ‘must do’ lists. But somewhere along the line, the line stressed out, perhaps more because of my financial weakness. Today, if someone’s willing to pay me well for something, I might not decline the offer! Who knows when I’ll lose my job! My friends already have. But with my ’part time’ job, I’m saving at least a lakh every month,” says a BPO employee.

Dr Suniti Solomon, credited with the first HIV case in India in 1986, in an interview to a magazine TSI (The Sunday Indian) says that around five call centre/BPO employees from Chennai visit her every week to undergo HIV tests.

The Wall Street Journal had warned of Indian call centres and BPOs becoming HIV risk areas back in 2006 itself! It referred to a study conducted in February 2006, which found that 11 per cent of the 1,100 workers at a particular call centre and outsourcing business in Noida have had more than five sexual partners. (By contrast, a separate study found that only seven per cent of 1,300 adults across the country said they had more than five sexual partners.)

So what are the reasons that this section of youth is so vulnerable to the infection?

Call centres and BPOs are the sectors that accommodate the highest number of youth. They are sexually active and the lifestyle, odd working hours may contribute to it. Men and women live alone and work in close quarters. Indian call centre industry is waking up to this new BPO-bonding. BPO units are turning into hubs where inter-personal bonding takes place. And often, this bonding takes a sexual turn. There is reason to believe that their vulnerability to AIDS is genuine.

A Telegraph-MODE survey conducted in Calcutta, Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore some time back demonstrates that call centre employees let off steam by holding wild parties and seek physical comfort with the opposite sex. In Mumbai, 89 per cent people polled said they regularly attend wild parties and 74 per cent (55 per cent in Bangalore) said they seek the company of the opposite sex.

A BPO employee based in Pune in an interview to TSI told that they devote weekends for exciting experiments. “Having multiple sex partners has existed for some time now. But now, even group sex is gaining popularity. Weekends are devoted to such ‘experiments’ by promiscuous people, both married and single.

An unofficial swapping club exists in one of the well known MNC where the members meet once a month, usually on Fridays, in resorts in the city outskirts. After cocktails, the game starts. All the wives sit in their respective cars; the cars are locked and the keys are put in a basket. Then, the blindfolded husbands pick the car keys. Which lady they take home for the night depends on the keys they get. After a night of fun, they return the cars and wives to their respective owners.”

Dr Satish who was invited to hold talks on HIV and AIDS during an awareness programme for IT, BT sector four years ago says “But everyone present there were well aware of the modes of HIV transmission and its consequences. The company had called me because their toilets used to get clogged with condoms!” During his interaction with the participants, he found out that while 10 per cent of the male employees preferred their spouse to be a virgin, virginity was not really an issue with 80 per cent of the female employees who felt ‘that’ could be easily fixed with Hymenoplasty, a hymen reconstruction surgery.

The increasing number of HIV cases among urban, well educated and financially stable people debunks the myth of illiteracy and poverty being the greatest hurdles in our war against HIV and AIDS. It will be hard to believe that they dont know about HIV/AIDS. But sadly their chalta hai attitude and easy access of everything is the reason that drives these people to risky behaviour. Youth are part of our system and future of this country but they are themselves indulging in the self-damaging activities. You can not blame the western culture either because the today’s youth is well aware of pros and cons of everything. Probably, the lack of morality, the proper mindset and abstinence will soon make India country with highest number of HIV infected people.

The government must ensure that more concrete steps are taken and companies should also try to educate their employees and this should not be mere tokenism. HIV and AIDS awareness programmes should not be restricted only to rural areas; it should also encompass the ‘literate uneducated’ sections of the urban society.