Posts Tagged ‘AIDS’

The statement that spilled venom at a convention meant to create awareness and foster concern for homosexuality.

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad: “The disease of Men Having Sex with Men (MSM), which was found more in the developed world, has now unfortunately come to our country and there are a substantial number of such people in India. Even though it (homosexuality among men) is unnatural, it exists in our country and is now fast spreading, making it tough for its detection. With relationships changing, men are having sex with men now. Though it is easy to find women sex workers and educate them on sex, it is a challenge to find MSMs.”

The Minister was addressing a national meeting on HIV/AIDS prevention on July 4. The AIDS convention, organized by a forum of parliamentarians, was also attended by PM Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Some Union ministers and chief ministers, besides members of Parliament and legislative assemblies, Zila Parishad chairpersons and mayors, apart from professionals working in the area also remained present.

The comment raised eyebrows and caused havoc in the country. Activists and other groups demanded apologies and some went to the extent of Azad’s resignation. Having foot in the mouth, the minister hastily called a press conference the next day. “Some people have played with the words. I have been quoted out of context,” he said. “My reference was to HIV as a disease. As health minister, I know (male homosexual sex) is not a disease.” Though, the video clips of Azad’s speech in Hindi kept ruling the Indian news channels.

Ghulam Nabi Azad has been in the news a few years ago for the late-night-TV-solution he offered to control population. “If there is electricity in every village, people will watch TV till late night and then fall asleep. They won’t get a chance to produce children. When there is no electricity, there is nothing else to do but produce babies.”


: Homosexuality is a form of mental illness and can be cured.
Fact: The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of official mental illnesses in 1973. The American Psychological Association followed suit in 1974. And so have most associations around the world.

 Homosexuality does not exist in nature and therefore it is not natural.
Fact: Historians tell us that homosexuality has existed since the earliest of human societies. Anthropologists report that homosexuals have been a part of every culture. It is also a well-known fact that same sex behavior is ‘natural’ between animals.

Myth: Sexual orientation is a choice.
Fact: Sexual Orientation is not a choice. It usually manifests itself in early adolescence prior to any sexual experience. What is choice is a person’s decision to act on their orientation or to deny and act against it. Doing the latter can create emotional problems later.

Homosexuality is a foreign concept.
Fact: We have the Kamasutra in India, which is a 2500-year-old sex guidebook. The book has a chapter exclusively on homosexuality. There are temples in Khajurao, Modhera, Patan, Dahod, Somnath etc with homosexual statues that were built even before the Muslims invaded India. We have Shikhandi in Mahabharata who was gay. Also, we have several gay characters in Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Indian epics. We have this concept ofArdhnareshwari (Half Shiva and half Parvati). We also have gay Gods and lesbian Goddesses in our Hindu mythology.


MOHNISH KABIR MALHOTRA, a publicist and gay rights activist

“I think the minister needs to apologize immediately. He has insulted the entire homosexual community. Homosexuality is very much a part of nature and it even finds references in religious texts. To call it unnatural is absurd.”

MARIO D’PENHA, a historian of the gay rights movement in South Asia

“To have such a level of bias and ignorance expressed in that context about something so basic is very dangerous. What is farcical, given his comments, is that he said the country needs more sex education. There are a lot of gay people in India who would like to give the minister an education.”

NANDITA DAS, actor-director

“I am appalled by the ignorance of the health minister. He is in a position of responsibility, and so his ignorance cannot be overlooked as it sends out wrong messages. In today’s day and age where same sex marriage is being legitimized around the world, and our own Delhi High Court has decriminalized homosexuality, I am amazed how ill informed and insensitive our minister is.”

ADITYA BONDYOPADHYAY, a lawyer and gay rights activist

“When a minister, and especially the health minister, says this in public, it conveys the impression that this is government policy, and that can have a huge impact on the lives of gay people who already struggle with official discrimination and police harassment. The religious right will jump on statements like this to increase the amount of hate.”


“Azad should apologize for discriminating against Indian citizens on the basis of their sexual orientation. There’s no scientific proof to justify his comments. I am surprised he made such a statement.”

VIKRAM BHATT, director-producer

“How can something that hundreds of people indulge in be unnatural? It could be unpopular for some, uninteresting for some and unbelievable for others. But unnatural? No chance!”


The biggest challenge to overcome the myths that prevail in the society is to create awareness. And comments like these from a person of such a stature, leads us nowhere. Marginalization of HIV/AIDS and homosexuality makes the issues isolated. This makes it harder to spread the awareness messages and create social acceptance. Even today, it is considered a taboo to belong to the homosexual community. In such times, the Health Minister should not have afforded to make such an irrational and unscientific statement.

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Give us a little information about the activities you and your organization are into.
Going down the memory lane, in 1993, National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) of the Indian Government conducted a study in different cities of India. The target groups were the high risk behavior groups who are likely to be infected by HIV, like the sex workers, homosexuals, slum population, migrants or eunuchs. I was the coordinator for that study in Gujarat. This was my first effort to understand HIV as well as AIDS sociologically. It was then that I worked with these groups in Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Vadodara, Surat and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. We realized that it was very important to work on this issue in Gujarat.

One of the objectives of that study was to find NGOs who would be interested to work for this issue in the future. Then, it was only Jyotisangh, founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1934, the NGO that works for women, that was interested in working for HIV/AIDS. I supported this NGO as a technical consultant and now, the entire project is handed over to the women sex workers. This is called CBO – Community based organization.

What inspired you to work for such a sensitive issue?
The first inspiration is my subject – I teach Sociology. I have witnessed that there are a lot of groups that are never included in our course of study like the sex workers, homosexuals or the eunuchs. So the thought of imparting awareness about these groups to people always troubled me. Also my family background was such that I was always told to be good to common and marginalized people, understand their problems and talk to them.

What were the challenges and reactions you had to face when you started working on the issue?
When I joined Jyotisangh, the biggest challenge was the NGO’s negative attitude towards the sex workers. It considered this work a social evil. So the first step was to change its leadership behavior.

Another challenge was to face the fraternity of the teachers here at the University. They ridiculed working with this group of sex workers and at times, even doubted me!
Lastly, there was no history of people working with the sex workers in Gujarat. So even we had little knowledge and had to grow on our own.(Cont. from page- 1)
There are many notions that prevail in the society, the very first being HIV and AIDS are the same.

What are the other such perceptions?
Yes, right! The biggest perception is that HIV and AIDS are the same. HIV is actually a virus, through which a disease called AIDS spreads and that too after a span of 6-8 years. Due to this notion, people treat a HIV Positive person as a patient of AIDS and do not allow him/her to be a part of the society. Secondly around 86% of the people suffering from HIV in India have got the virus due to unprotected sex. But due to no scientific knowledge about HIV among the people, an HIV Positive patient is considered characterless and the entire issue is linked to our moral values.

A third important problem is that the HIV patients are not allowed to continue their social relationships. HIV spreads only through 4 main reasons: unprotected sex, virus from mother to the child, through infected injections or intake of such drugs. But people have the notions that HIV spreads by being with an infected person or the virus spreads from the air. They also believe that at times needles are pierced into, just to increase the members of the AIDS community!

What can be done to change these perceptions?
I very firmly believe that the first step to change these perceptions is to impart sex education. At present it is banned in Gujarat. If we’ll consider sex education as a taboo, it won’t be possible for the next generation to understand the concept of HIV scientifically and the misconceptions among them will increase.

Secondly, the talk about HIV should not be limited to just World AIDS Awareness Day but throughout the year, we need to work on the issue.

Thirdly, it is very easy to avoid getting infected from HIV. But the problem is that we try to see the virus as a medical issue and not a social one. There is a simple A-B-C-D formula to fight HIV. ‘A’ is avoiding sex, but this may not be possible for all. So then comes ‘B’ which says be faithful to your partner. Again if this is not possible, try ‘C’ that is use of condoms. And if A-B-C is not followed, then ‘D’ is for death.

What is the current status of AIDS patients in Gujarat/India?
Until now, Gujarat was considered to be a low prevalence state, which means that less than 1% of the total population was affected by HIV. But recently a report of NACO revealed that Gujarat has entered the middle prevalence states’ list as per the data of 2009. However, the overall number of HIV Positive people in India has decreased but in Gujarat the spread of HIV has reached around more than 1.50%, which is much above the national average of 0.30%.

People consider HIV as well as AIDS to be very dangerous. Is this right? If not, what should be done to consider these like other diseases?
The biggest problem is that we haven’t achieved any breakthrough for HIV yet, there is no vaccine available. So, when medical science cannot progress in any disease, its fear among the people rises. But, the fact that people don’t understand is that the HIV Positive people whose CD4 count is less than 200 are called AIDS patients. Now, if the patient takes ART –Anti Retroviral Therapy, his/her immunity to fight the diseases is maintained and the life span increases. But this awareness is lacking and HIV/AIDS lead to death is a very strong belief.

What types of programs are conducted by different organizations that work for this issue? What is their impact?
The first huge program is that of the Government that is called TI – Targeted Intervention. These projects target the groups who are most likely to get infected by HIV. TI identifies them, makes them aware regarding HIV & AIDS and this group then takes the project further.

Another type of organization is run by the HIV Positives themselves. Their network is called Gujarat State Network of Positive People (GSNP+).And the third type is the CBO – Community Based Organizations.

And there is a huge impact of such organizations in Gujarat over the last 10-12 years. First impact is that these marginalized groups were able to enter the main stream population of the society. Secondly female sex workers have started explaining their clients about HIV that may lead to AIDS and this has helped to generate a lot of awareness. Thirdly, people have started demanding safe blood as this disease spreads through blood too.

What are the common problems faced by the AIDS patients?
The first being the psychological problem; as soon as you know that you are infected with HIV, you start feeling that now there is no future. This type of hopelessness and helplessness shatters them.

Second problem is that the society does not accept them and there is no one to turn to when you find out that you are Positive.
The third is the monetary issue. Just recently, Government started giving the ART drugs free of cost at the Government hospitals. But apart from the medicines, the cost of eating healthy food due to which the immune system would stay fit is very high.

What are the efforts on the part of the Government?
I believe that the Government of Gujarat and that of India has taken this issue very positively. There are 5 year plans for this issue and the current policies will end in 2012. It includes free medicines for the HIV patients, education for their kids, and concessions for travel as the patients need to go to the hospitals frequently etc. the Government also supports the Network of Positive People and gives a lot of autonomy to the NGOs.

Your message to the society.
Let us develop a scientific temper for HIV. This will increase our knowledge for the subject, which in turn will lead to sympathy. Also, I will again insist that the new generation of Gujarat should be imparted sex education and the ban should be lifted immediately.
(Dr. Gaurang Jani, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Gujarat University)

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