“A photograph taken and posted on a travel website by an unknown foreigner nearly drove Thilakavathy, a 25-year-old mother, to suicide .”

Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (Tansacs) used this photograph, without Thilakavathy’s knowledge or permission in hoardings and posters all over the state, as part of an HIV awareness campaign. And landed in court.

TANSACS had used the picture of the mother and child with the caption- ‘an HIV+ve woman does not necessarily infect her child with AIDS’.

Thilakavathy informed Chennai High Court that friends and relatives had distanced themselves from her family, thinking that she and her child were HIV+ve. They were both in fact, not HIV+ve.

“The High Court agreed with Thilakavathy that the ads, with captions suggesting she was an AIDS patient,were a serious problem that will affect the social status of the family’.

The court issued notices to the Health Department, TANSACS and Chennai AIDS Prevention and Control Society who were the respondents.

TANSACS’ counsel told the court that an authorised advertisement company had created the campaign and that they were not connected with the advertisements. The Judge rejected this and directed Thilakavathy’s counsel to implead the advertisement company as a respondent in the case.

“Justice Suguna of the Madras High Court, hearing Thilakavathy’s plea for relief and compensation, directed Tansacs to draw up guidelines for using photographs from the Internet and ordered removal of all hoardings and posters with the photo within a week.”

Final judgement on her demand for a compensation of Rs 1 crore and unconditional public apology from Tansacs will be pronounced after a month.”

So what do you think?

Was it ethical for the advertising agency to use Thilakavathy’s photograph in the ad campaign without her consent?

Should TANSACS have verified that the persons in the photograph had given their consent before approving the ads- given the social stigma associated with HIV+ve status?

Will the monetary compensation Thilakavathy will probably get really conpensate her for the mental suffering she underwent?

In my opinion, even if Thilakavathy had been HIV+ve the campaign should not have used her photograph without her consent.

If they could not find her or did not know who she was, then they should have used some other photograph. As promoters of a social awareness campaign, TANSACS had a duty to act ethically.

Perhaps the creators of this campaign and the officials who sanctioned it could be featured in such posters so they could get a taste of how it feels?