From Switzerland with a mission

WHEN IN NEED: Alec Gagneux showing the condom bag installed in a ladies toilet in Armstrong Knitting Mills in Tirupur. - Photo: M. Balaji  

M. Gunasekaran

TIRUPUR: The 46-year-old mechanical engineer from Switzerland, Alec Gagneux, has weaved a different life in this textile town. One can spot him going around the streets either in bicycle or in a bus with a bag on his shoulder carrying the slogan: "Stop: AIDS, American Imperialism... "

This low-profile activist who is "enchanted" to be in the "thickly populated, smoke-filled India" where alcoholism is on the rise, first came to this country as a tourist in 1990.

In 2001 he came to Tirupur through a Swiss knitwear company, Switcher.

Now he has given up his profession as engineer and has devoted his life to fight HIV/AIDS and espouse the cause of reproductive healthcare.

"Preventing unwanted birth is a human right. To avoid unwanted pregnancy and HIV/AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases, every human being should have a dignified access to condoms," Mr. Gagneux says.

With this objective he first approached company representatives in Tirupur, who readily accepted to experiment with his ideas.

"I have integrated AIDS/family planning in their social accountability programme.

Their supplier, Prem Durai Exports, readily accepted to install condom boxes.''

Again in 2003 Mr. Gagneux came to Tirupur through another chain store, Migros. Last week he installed condom boxes at five companies. Condom bags were installed at ladies toilets and for gents boxes were fixed at public places.

Mr. Gagneux installed condom boxes at Tirupur bus stand too in association with an NGO, Swokyam Foundation. The Tamil Nadu Government supplies condoms to these boxes.

Says E. Palanisamy of Armstrong Knitting Mills: "When we installed this in 2003, many laughed at us. But this is an important social obligation to take care of our workers.''

Now at least 500 condoms are taken away from this box in a month. Deeply inspired by Indian philosophy, especially non-violence and Buddhism, Mr. Gagneux is all praise for India. "India is my second home. Indians are polite and very tolerant even in difficult times. I love India. This gives me energy,'' he says.

So how does he find time to spend with his spouse, children?

Making no effort to cover the packet of condom jutting out of his shirt pocket he says: "Very consciously I am unmarried.''