Under a democratic façade, my country is a theocratic state ruled by the clerics where talking about the sex and sex-related diseases is considered to be a taboo. The people who raise these issues are usually gagged and their way towards making a difference is often obstructed.
But these realities weren’t dawned upon me until I met Zareen, a thirty-year-old diminutive widow from Muzzaffargarh, a far-off district in Pakistan, who narrated her heart-rending story to me. Ahmad made Zareen his wife, but AIDS widowed her. He died on February 17th, 2009 after fighting against the AIDS nearly for eight years. Despite severe bouts of disease; he continued his struggle for life till his last without giving up the hope.
Before dying, he took a promise that Zareen for her remaining life will educate people about AIDS as he fell victim to AIDS when an infected needle from the medical waste of his hospital accidentally injured his foot. No one could diagnose the real cause behind Ahmad’s illness rather they attributed his disease falsely to promiscuity. A tiny spine deprived Zareen of her amorous husband and left her behind for fighting against the travails of life.
But Zareen stood by her words and began creating the awareness about AIDS in her area. In translating her dream, of saving people from the menace of AIDS, into a reality, she had to run the gauntlet of Mullahs (religious leaders) in her area, who branded her as infidel for her discussion of the disease forbidden. Zareen was assaulted physically and her home attacked many times. But she continued despite the odds and today she is successfully running her AIDS awareness program in her area, making the people aware of the looming threat of AIDS in Pakistan.
Zareen’s story left deep imprints on my mind and gave me an impetus to contribute to her noble mission. In order to highlight her unflinching passion for her cause, I penned down the story of her struggle that won me an international accolade in year 2010. Moreover, recently I have produced Pakistan’s first-ever radio program on AIDS for creating awareness among the masses and have met a stiff resistance like the one faced by Zareen. But as long as I and Zareen traverse the road less traveled, something whispers from within my soul that even a single life is saved from the AIDS, our mission is worth it.My Story: Standing Up