Over a hundred cyclists, including transgenders and sex workers, pedalled off on Sunday from this eastern metropolis to the Bangladesh border in West Bengal to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in the remote areas.
"Initially, the plan was to ride all the way to Dhaka where the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) will be held. But due to certain reasons, the event has been truncated till Petrapole, the Bangladesh border on the Indian side," transgender activist Santosh Giri of the community-based organisation Kolkata Rista, a key partner in the cause, said.
"But it will not affect the purpose of the marathon to encourage youth to access HIV services, without fear or prejudice, protect and promote human rights," Giri added. The AIDS RIDE 2015 is a mobile awareness campaign, a part of the 12th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP). The bicycle marathon was flagged off from Sonagachi, a red-light district in north Kolkata.
The participants, including those affected with AIDS, will pass through high prevalence districts and pockets of HIV to generate awareness of access to health services such as diagnosis, treatment, care and support.
Also joining in are sex workers and members of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (a sex workers' collective). Giri said as the cyclists make their way through rural Bengal, they will discuss about the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and talk about discrimination and gender-based violence.
The target group is adolescents, particularly girls.
The cyclists are expected to reach the border on November 19.