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Last Updated: Oct 11, 2012 - 10:22:56 PM
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Court ruling on gays will help fight AIDS, say experts

Jul 2, 2009 - 6:28:15 PM
He said the gays faced intense distress and harassment that causes more depressive anxiety symptoms in them.

[RxPG] New Delhi, July 2 - Health experts and activists Thursday said the Delhi High Court ruling decriminalising homosexuality will be a new tool in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS as the closeted gay community is a high-risk group.

The National AIDS Control Organisation - Director-General K. Sujatha Rao told IANS: 'It is a positive judgment. Decriminalising this high-risk group has made our job easier as we will be able to reach out to them. This will help the public health system.'

The high court Thursday struck down the Indian Penal Code's - controversial section 377, a relic from the British Raj era, that termed homosexuality as a criminal act.

A bench of Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar said if Section 377 is not amended, it would violate Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees equal opportunity of life for every citizen of the country.

Rao said: 'This - will help us access patients and prevent HIV/AIDS. This was hard earlier as the law made it difficult for us to work with sex workers and gays. They were the hidden population, and we could not reach them as the law was not favouring them.'

NACO is the apex government agency to monitor and check HIV/AIDS in India. The 2008-09 budget of NACO was over Rs.1,100 crore.

According to estimates revised in 2007, India has an approximate 2.5 million people living with HIV. According to NACO, there are 2.35 million men having sex with men - in the country.

Gays are considered to be among the high-risk group vulnerable to the spread of HIV/AIDS in India. Apart from them, the other high-risk groups are sex workers, truck drivers and injecting drug users -.

'Our plea has always been for decriminalising this high-risk group. We are happy that our plea was considered by the court. It would make the public health programmes more successful,' Rao told IANS by phone from Hyderabad.

UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe welcomed the decision and said that 'the Delhi High Court has restored the dignity and human rights of millions of men who have sex with men and transgendered people in India.'

He said such oppressive laws drive people underground making it much harder to reach them for HIV prevention, treatment and care services.

'It sends a positive message to countries where such laws still exist,' he said.

According to UNAIDS, currently 80 countries have legislation prohibiting same-sex behaviour.

He said the criminalisation of adult sexual behaviour is hampering HIV responses across the world.

'Such measures have a negative impact on delivery of HIV prevention programmes and access to treatment by people living with HIV. Not only do they violate human rights of individuals, but further stigmatize these populations.'

Speaking on behalf of the United Nations, Charles Gilks, UNAIDS country coordinator in India, said: 'We are excited by the ruling and hope that it will send a positive signal to many other countries, especially in South and West Asia, where sodomy is punishable by death.'

Anjali Shah, a lawyer of the Lawyers Collective, said: 'One of the biggest implications of this verdict is that it will make HIV prevention work much easier and effective.'

HIV activist and physician S. Sunder Raman said the decision is moving toward making sure that the current law does not hold people as criminals for homosexual acts and push them underground.

According to psychiatrist Samir Parikh, the judgment is 'both scientific and humane.'

'The judgment goes with what science says, and this is a positive and progressive step, that needs to be welcomed,' Parikh, head of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences in Max Healthcare, told IANS.

'Since early '70s, it has been accepted medically that orientation is not a matter of choice and cannot be corrected, and the fact that same sex orientation is not a disease and this is an innate phenomena that a person has.'

He said the gays faced intense distress and harassment that causes more depressive anxiety symptoms in them.

'... they feel threatened by the stigma and fear of harassment owing to its criminal connotation, as it was considered before today's judgment. This historic judgment indeed pays heed to human rights in the largest democracy of the world,' he said.

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