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NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - Widowed at 30, HIV-positive Chhaya Tope had resigned herself to a life of loneliness, but a website for Indians afflicted with AIDS has given her another chance at love.
Tope lost her husband to AIDS. Six months ago, desperation drove her to post her profile on www.positivesaathi.com, and she has since been in regular contact with an HIV positive Indian man living in Canada, and they plan on getting married next month.
"When I got to know that my husband had transmitted the disease to me I was angry and bitter. I thought my life was over and even attempted suicide," Tope told Reuters.
"But my fiance is such a caring person. Since he is HIV positive himself he understands my situation. We are getting married next month, thanks to the website that made it possible."
Since its launch last year, around 460 men and women have registered their profiles on the site, and several have found partners who are willing to settle down with them
The website's founder, government employee Anil Kumar Valiv, said he had no way of knowing how many marriages his service had created, but added that he was happy to help HIV/AIDS sufferers, who are stigmatised in society.
Valiv said before he started positivesaathi.com, no other mainstream Indian matrimonial website catered exclusively to HIV positive people. Prominent marriage portals such as www.bharatmatrimony.com and www.jeevansaathi.com said they did not have a separate search criteria for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Valiv lost a close friend to AIDS and it was this friend's desire for a relatively normal life that inspired the website.
"In India it is very difficult to find a life partner for an HIV positive person. Internet provides the necessary anonymity to people who prefer to register without disclosing their real names," he told Reuters.
India is home to the world's third largest caseload of HIV/AIDS, and the eagerness of the website's users for a chance at normality shows in their profile descriptions. Female registration is low -- for every 100 male entries, there are only about 10 female entries -- but users still hold out hope.
"I am looking for my life partner as early as possible. Because my parents have no idea about my position. They want to see my marriage," user "krishnaiah" wrote on his profile.
A 28-year-old woman who registered under "sssss" said: "I was full of desire to be successful in my life, but it was my destiny to register in this site. I will strive to survive."
The site also hosts basic information about HIV/AIDS including helpline numbers and addresses of NGOs.
Valiv concedes that the number of users on his site is too small to represent the thousands searching for partners in India, where millions of people do not have access to the Internet or are unable to use a computer.
But he added that such niche portals could help prevent the spread of the disease in a country where being single is usually frowned upon and parents often arrange matches for children.
"Often parents give in to social pressure and knowingly marry off sons with HIV infection to healthy women who in turn get infected," he said.
"Exclusive marriage portals for HIV positive people will at least give these people the freedom to choose their own life partners and save many innocent lives," said Valiv.