Criminalising homosexuality may impact Aids programme

Criminalising homosexuality may impact Aids programme

The Centre’s plan to expand its Aids control programme to include more transgenders and people from the men having sex with men (MSM) community may hit a roadblock thanks to the Supreme Court verdict that set aside a previous high court judgement decriminalising same sex conduct among adults and consenting individuals.

“Criminalising men having sex with men is not healthy. It prevents the (sexual) minority community from coming out in the open and seeking health care service,” Lalit Dandona, a research professor at Public Health Foundation of India, who worked on the HIV/Aids scenario in India, told Deccan Herald.

The National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) informed the apex court that the prevalence of the human immunodeficiency virus infection among the MSM community varies between 6.54-7.23 per cent, which is the second most vulnerable community after injection drug users.

India had an estimated 25 lakh persons in the MSM community, out of which 10 per cent was at risk from contracting HIV infection. But a 2010-11 NACO annual report puts the MSM number at 40 lakh.

“NACO provided inclusive health care service for gay men and transgenders, who came out to seek health care services after the Delhi High Court judgement. We are now gone back by 30-40 years,” said Ashok Row Kavi from Humsafar Trust, Mumbai, who is India's first gay rights activist.

Even though transgenders and hijras are vulnerable, there was hardly any effort on the part of the health ministry to reach out to them. With support from the United Nations Development Program and National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai NACO, for the first time, identified 5,821 transgender sites – 1,664 sites in rural areas and 4,157 in urban areas – in 17 states.

Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have the highest concentration of transgenders, where NACO plans to reach out in the fourth phase of the National Aids Control Programme in the next four years.

One of the objectives of the NACP-4 was to reduce “stigma and discrimination” against transgenders and hijras for creating a conducive environment for the welfare of the community. This, activists say, would not be possible is people from the queer community still face harassment from the authorities because of the law.

The Indian Penal Code was written by the British in another era. They changed the law in their country. Homosexuality is dubbed criminal only in very few countries. Some countries are even allowing same sex marriage. At least, it should not be made criminal in India,” said Dandona.

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