Patient Zero : The Dominic D’Souza story
Editor's Choice
Category: Non-Fiction
Author: Arun Ghosh
Season 6

In the heart of Goa, amidst the sun-kissed beaches and vibrant culture, emerged a story that would challenge the very fabric of societal norms and redefine the narrative surrounding HIV/AIDS in India. This is the remarkable story of Dominic D’Souza, the first HIV patient in Goa, whose life became a catalyst for change in a nation grappling with misconceptions, fear, and discrimination.

Born in British Colonial Africa, Dominic D’Souza returned to his ancestral home in Goa along with his family and settled there when he was fairly young. He worked for World Wildlife Fund for Nature, and was a part of Mustard Seed Art Company, Goa’s most notable English- language theatre.

In 1989, at the age of 29, D’Souza was summoned to his neighborhood police station in Mapusa following a blood donation. The police took him to Aslio Hospital and showed him a file with his name alongside the term “AIDS.” After that, the police took him to an unused TB sanatorium, and he was confined there under armed guards. He would stay there for the next 64 days, against his will.

In 1987, in the middle of the global anxiety surrounding HIV, the Goan government enacted the Goa Public Health Act, permitting the isolation of individuals testing positive for HIV. Dominic D’Souza, the first person in Goa to be tested positive for HIV, or “Patient Zero,” was incarcerated under this draconian law. Even the doctor who was treating him would not enter the room. D’Souza later recounted his experience, saying, “You can never fully realize the depths to which I have been hurt, humiliated, and broken.”

Lucy D’Souza, Dominic’s mother, filed a lawsuit contesting the law, citing violations of fundamental human rights. Lucy D’Souza vs. The State of Goa was the first legal battle on HIV to be fought in India. A young lawyer named Anand Grover represented them in the case. Even though they lost the case, the court granted interim relief to Dominic D’Souza.

He left his job and devoted all his time to activism and established ‘Positive People’, an NGO with the goal of combating discrimination against individuals with HIV and offering them assistance. He came out publicly as HIV-positive and worked to create awareness about the disease in society.

Dominic D’Souza was India’s first HIV activist. The initiative he started laid the groundwork for all other HIV movements in the country and also contributed to advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Three years later, in 1992, he contracted AIDS and succumbed to the disease. His obituary in Goa’s newspapers read, “Dominic lived with AIDS, but he lived not to be ashamed.” Despite the physical suffering, mental trauma, and ostracism from society, Dominic and his family and friends paved the way to an era in which we are no longer in a world where a young man would be locked up just for being HIV positive.

Anand Grover continued to work on cases regarding HIV. He fought several landmark cases, including MX vs. ZY, in which the Bombay High Court ruled against discrimination in public sector employment on the basis of HIV status. Lawyers Collective, an NGO headed by Grover, drafted the HIV (Prevention and Control) Act 2017, which was passed in the Parliament of India, and promises to tackle discrimination against HIV-positive persons.

Today, in India, 2.4 million people live with HIV/AIDS. HIV is no longer a death sentence, as patients can lead a longer and more regular life, but the stigma around the disease is still a huge challenge.

Through education, advocacy, and a collective commitment to change, we can create a future where every individual, regardless of their HIV status, is treated with dignity, respect, and understanding. Together, let us work towards a society that values every life, fostering an environment where compassion triumphs over prejudice and acceptance replaces discrimination.

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