Voices: Finding the Strength to Survive
July 2008—Kundrakpam Pradipkumar lives and lifts weights in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, a high HIV prevalence region on the border with Myanmar and near the heroin-producing Golden Triangle. Pradipkumar has been called “the Body of Hope” by the Indian press, and Manipur has anointed him the state’s HIV ambassador.
I was not surprised when I was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2000. As an injection drug user, I took health risks, including sharing injecting equipment. I was well aware of HIV, but I couldn’t practice prevention because of my craving for heroin.
Kundrakpam Pradipkumar, Mr. Manipur 2007, fights HIV/AIDS by staying strong.
For three years after learning I had HIV, I stayed close to home, not doing much more than avoiding the hard stares of the community. But deep inside I had the desire to stay fit. At one point, a well-wisher named Dinesh motivated me to visit the gym, where I began working out in earnest. Slowly, I got into the rhythm. Dinesh’s encouragement gave me a great deal of confidence, especially when he told me I should build up my muscles and compete as a body builder.
I soon discovered that the physical and mental stress I was drowning in was slowly fading away. The gym is my temple; I find peace of mind there, a wholeness and contentment. When people give me a pat on the back and compliment my good health and hard work, it gives me the energy to go on. Nothing nourished my zeal for bodybuilding more than the idea of challenging people’s perceptions of PLWHA [people living with HIV/AIDS].
I started thinking of how to defeat the stigma and discrimination attached to positive people by promoting health and fitness, and I realized I could be a role model. I had the earnest desire to defeat the myths and show that HIV is manageable through healthy living. For two years, I prepared with firm determination for the Mr. Manipur title in the 60 kilogram category. In 2006, I won the silver medal. Being named the runner-up gave me the confidence to aim for the Mr. Manipur title again in 2007.
The six-hour daily training was not as difficult as managing the financial demands of increased dietary supplements. My two older sisters were very supportive. I also receive help from several NGOs, individuals, and health authorities working on HIV/AIDS issues.
I went on to win the coveted title of Mr. Manipur 2007. In June, I competed in the Mr. India competition, and won fourth place in the 55 kilogram category. Now I want to open a gym for PLWHA that will improve their quality of life through healthy living. I also want to open an orphanage for HIV-positive children.
A good number of people have been moved by my motivation. Gaining their respect and regard is a good sign of reduced stigma and a change in their perception of PLWHA. Some parents have turned to me for guidance for their children who are interested in fitness and bodybuilding.
All human beings are equal, and that’s what I would like to preach and practice. Sometimes I even forget that I am HIV positive because of the engagement and the growth that I’ve achieved toward a meaningful life. It’s not about winning titles, but finding a healthy life by fighting and managing the virus.
To read more about Pradipkumar’s story, and see additional photos, click here.