Posters, storybooks spread AIDS awareness in rural India (Feature)

June 1st, 2008 - 10:35 am ICT by admin  

By Ranjana Narayan
New Delhi, June 1 (IANS) A Nandalal Bose-inspired ‘patua’ style painting of a loving couple as a poster endorsing the use of condoms; a storybook in tribal Santhali language talking of the dangers that migrant male labourers face if they are promiscuous - messages on HIV/AIDS are getting more people-friendly and attractive. The posters in Bengali, including one done to look like a kantha-stitch embroidery, are very striking, driving home the need to remain faithful to one’s partner, be alert against the possible re-use of syringes.

The posters and the illustrated books have been devised by the State Resource Centres (SRCs), a part of the National Literacy Mission that holds classes in rural areas for neo-literates between the ages of 15 and 35 years.

The messages on HIV/AIDS have been quietly interspersed along with the normal classes in an effort to make them a “part of lifelong learning” and take away the health tag associated with them.

“The posters and the easy-to-read storybooks help both ways - they attract the attention of people and make talking about AIDS a real issue, without just bringing in the sexual mode of getting infection. They bring to people the other ways of getting infected - like from a reused syringe or a needle - which are the real dangers,” Shankar Chowdhury of Unesco told IANS here.

The UN body is working with the government to introduce HIV/AIDS awareness as part of the literacy classes and has sponsored the books and posters in six SRCs in states like Bihar, West Bengal and Maharashtra. India is said to have 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients.

The booklets, which are usually in the main regional languages where the SRCs work, are now also being written in the local dialect to reach out to more people. The Patna SRC has come out with the Santhali books, while the West Bengal SRC has devised the posters and storybooks in Bengali.

The Santhali storybooks, comprising about 12 pages in bold print and well illustrated, are simple tales of village people - men going out in search of work to cities, going to sex workers without using condoms, and then paying for it by getting the AIDS virus.

“Migration is a real issue in rural areas. Men go in search of work outside their villages, and this is where they face the danger of getting infected, unless they are careful,” Chowdhury said.

“The stories can easily be read aloud and at many SRCs people do so. Some of them are also in poetry form, which readers find interesting,” he said.

Not all the characters in the storybooks have Hindu names, there are some with Muslim names and Christian names too - a way to get wider acceptance among the readers and tell them that everyone is vulnerable, irrespective of their religion.

The Santhali books are by writers from the local area who were first “sensitised and trained in order to change their mindset about HIV/AIDS and make them more sympathetic”, said Chowdhury.

Storybooks in Urdu were brought out by the SRC in Kishenganj in Bihar, which again have a wide readership.

There are thought-provoking questions at the back of each book, like do you think the protagonist should have used condoms or what should the protagonist do if he/she tests positive? The questions are asked during the literacy classes and help promote group discussion.

“The discussions make people open up towards the subject and take away their shyness,” says Chowdhury.

In Kishenganj, around 40-50 percent of the men migrate to either West Bengal or Gujarat in search of work. In Gujarat, they are employed as diamond cutters.

“The stories establish how migration is linked to HIV, how men succumb to peer pressure, how the urge to have a fling can endanger their lives and their families.”

The feedback to the books has been very good, says Chowdhury. “Several women at the SRCs said they had read the books two-three times and wanted more such books. The discussions over the books give women a forum to open up - discuss interpersonal relationships, and relations with their husbands, etc.”

There are 28 SRCs in the country and Unesco is targeting all of them in order to introduce the subject of HIV/AIDS through its literacy classes, said Chowdhury. Unesco has held training sessions with all the 28 SRCs and had very positive feedback, he said.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at

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