A new media campaign called "What Kind of Man Are You?" has roped in celebrities to bring public attention to the growing number of Indian married women being infected with HIV/Aids by their husbands.
The highlight of the campaign, to take off in Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai, is a music video with well-known actress Mandira Bedi, who was also the glamorous anchor in Extraa Innings during Cricket World Cup 2003, and actor Samir Soni of Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin fame.
To the song Maati … sung by Shubha Mudgal and written by Prasoon Joshi of McCann Erickson, the thrust of the battle against this disease is skilfully brought out: the message of safe sex even among married couples.
"There are plenty of causes for celebrities to take up in India," said Bedi, adding, "HIV/Aids should take centre stage when you look at the alarming statistics.
"The video on the rarely talked about angle is neither preachy nor takes a moral stand," she told a press conference yesterday.
Bedi plays the protagonist in the music video and portrays the feelings of betrayal and sorrow that a young mother-to-be faces when she learns she has been infected by her husband.
Soni, who represents a loving but irresponsible husband in the video, said, "I was afraid of male bashing but director Arjun Chandramohan Bali handled the film in a sensitive manner."
So far, many believe that commercial sex workers are the ones at risk but the reality is that married women in monogamous relationships are increasingly becoming infected by HIV because their husbands often engage in high risk sexual activity outside the marriage.
Most married women have little knowledge or awareness of the risks they face.
"This is because HIV/Aids awareness programmes have all along concentrated on high risk categories like commercial sex workers, truck drivers and gays but very little has been done to sensitise ordinary women," says Mallika Dutt, Executive Director of Breakthrough, an international human rights organisation.
The campaign, it is hoped, will spark a public dialogue about difficult but necessary issues like fidelity, protection from HIV/Aids, communication within marriage and the use of condoms.
"We all need to understand this is a serious health and human rights issue."
According to the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), India currently has an estimated 5.1 million people infected with HIV/Aids of which two million are women.