A RECTOR in Birmingham has been honoured as one of India’s greatest expats for his charitable work in seeking to end the stigmatisation of people with HIV.
The Rector of Curdworth, the Revd Dr Joshva Raja, has been awarded a Non-Resident Indian Award by the Indian TV channel Times Now.
Dr Raja said that at first he had tried to refuse his nomination, but now had decided to accept it on behalf of the wider Indian Christian community.
”We now have nearly 40 million Indians around the world as a diaspora, with just 15 of them being selected for this award,” he said. “There were many famous actors, and Miss Worlds and multi-millionaires. I was the only Christian and priest in the history of the award; so it’s a recognition of the Christian service of the community at large.”
Born in South India, Dr Raja first saw the effect of stigmatisation in Bangalore. A priest there asked him to convince his congregation not to force out a couple who were HIV-positive.
”The Government communication [on HIV] was very negative: ‘It is a deadly thing.’ When people are found to be infected, they are thrown out of the community. So I began to work with my students to tell people that living with and eating with HIV-positive people will not infect you.”
His project was being backed by the Mothers’ Union, the YMCA, and local government, and even reached national government.
When Dr Raja moved to the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham, he created resources for students, and worked with the UN and the World Council of Churches to expand the projects.
Juggling his charitable work with being a priest could be a challenge, he said, but “my involvement in the parish is in no way reduced by my involvement otherwise.” The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, has allowed him one day a week to work on the HIV project.
Bishop Urquhart said: “We are blessed in Birmingham with a diverse range of vicars who bring a wealth of experiences and backgrounds to their parishes across this region.
“I know that Joshva doesn’t expect awards for his work, but I am delighted that his practical, demonstrable care for marginalised communities across the world has been celebrated in this way.”