Posts Tagged ‘Society’

• How has the repeal of Article 377 empowered the homosexuals?
I would like you to know that this Indian law was not known to many people, including those of the gay community. The fact is that in our country, religion plays a very important role. People were not aware about this law that criminalized homosexuality. They thought it is a sin, offense, crime etc. just because the society perceived it in that manner. And the society perceived it based on religion and the mindsets of the people in general. But since this law was decriminalized, most of the people came to know that this law once existed. After the court decision came, the amount of publicity generated by the media was widespread. It created a controversy, debates and discussions. This entire media publicity actually helped in mainstreaming homosexuality in the society. So, it was not about the law being decriminalized, but the publicity that created a lot of sensitization and empowerment in the community. One of my favorite quotes is that “Gay Rights cannot be won in the court rooms but in the hearts of the society.” See, I am very honest about my opinions. How many people in India follow the laws? Laws are made to be broken in our country. People don’t care much about the laws, what decisions the courts have made or what the parliament decides. If the mindset of the people is anti-homosexuality, then it does not make a difference if the High Court or the Supreme Court defies it. This decriminalization has definitely paved our way at Lakshya, my organization that works for HIV Prevention because this act was a serious obstacle towards HIV control in India. This law was being misused rather than being used. There are examples where my staff has been arrested by the Police. The irony is that they work for the Government of Gujarat, being paid salaries by the Govt. for distributing condoms for safe sex practices. The Police arrested them stating that it is against Section 377. We are here to save lives and the Police said we were violating the laws by encouraging homosexuality. So now that the law has been repealed, we do not have to face Police harassment. And we can now improve our strategies. In Gujarat, wherever we work, our HIV rates have fallen down and stabilized. Now there is no fear. 

• What is the role of media when it comes to homosexuality?

I must say that over the years, media has definitely changed its viewpoints. Earlier it used to give negative reports on homosexuality calling it abnormal and unnatural. This was the case especially with the vernacular newspapers. But my own coming out story actually broke the history of India, because I came out in a Gujarati newspaper in a Hindu fundamentalist state. It openly talked about homosexuality and not only that but it also brought out a very positive aspect of homosexuality. So, I think, this itself was a breaking news as for the first time in the history of India, a vernacular newspaper carried a positive story on homosexuality. This was a change in the role of media, after which other vernacular media also followed suit. In fact, through our organization, we follow one of the strategies called ‘Media Advocacy’, where the Government provides us with a budget. We are supposed to sensitize the media. We talk to them and clear their doubts on homosexuality. We seek their cooperation and support to bring out positive stories based on serious issues. This will help us in the long run not only in clearing the misconceptions about homosexuality but it will also make things easier for HIV control. So, I think, media has been sensitized but still a lot needs to be done. It is a continuous process as the people in the media keep changing! We cannot have the same set of people.

• What do you think about homosexuality being linked with religion, especially in India?

After I came out, a lot of people from the upper class came and confided in me. These include industrialists, business tycoons, political leaders, religious leaders, Government officers, people from royal families of India and abroad… if I start making a list, it would be a big directory! People actually write to me and correspond with me, they say ‘We wish we had guts like to you to come out, but we cannot. But we confide to you that we are gay and we fully support your cause. So when religious leaders say that homosexuality doesn’t exist, I know how many of they themselves are gays! You name the religion and the sect, I know each and every person from that particular sect who is gay! If I open my mouth and leak out the names, people will lose faith in religion. But I don’t want to do that, I have no right to do that. When a person has confided with me, I should maintain their trust. But I surely have a laugh when I see the religious leaders opposing us and they went to the Supreme Court. What is happening in the Supreme Court concerning our appeal is also very interesting. Though India is a secular country, majority of us are Hindus. Inspite of that, if you look at the petition that has been filed in the Supreme Court against the repeal of Section 377, out of the total 16 petitioners, there are just 2 Hindus. Others include 7 Christians and 7 Muslims. Now tell me, where is the proportion? If Hindus are majority in India, there should have been more Hindu petitioners. Why the Muslims and the Christians are more? This makes it very clear that Hinduism doesn’t have anything on record or any evidence to show that it is against homosexuality. We have Shikhandi in Mahabharata who was gay. Also, we have a several gay characters in Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Indian epics. We have this concept of Ardhnareshwari (Half Shiva and half Parvati). We have gay Gods and lesbian Goddesses in our Hindu mythology. Then where is the question of Hinduism being against homosexuality? Yes, Islam and Christianity are very clear – both the Quran and the Bible – say that homosexuality is a crime. And this is very apparent by the fact that the Supreme Court has majority of Muslim and Christian petitioners. I’ll give you another example of Nepal, which is just our bordering country. Nepal Supreme Court has legalized same sex marriages. It is not a secular country; it used to be a Hindu kingdom. I got a letter from the Minister of Tourism of Nepal saying ‘If you have any of your friends who want to get married, send them to Nepal. The Government of Nepal will ensure that they get married in the Hindu temple, by a Hindu priest; we’ll offer them a marriage certificate and send them to Mt. Everest for honeymoon! So, Nepal being a Hindu country has no Muslim and Christian population to protest against homosexuality. Also, they were never ruled by the Britishers, so they did not have a law that was criminalizing homosexuality. This is very nearby example! And Nepal is doing the right thing by promoting gay tourism. A debt-ridden economy like Nepal is going to earn a lot of foreign exchange by inviting gay and lesbian couples to come and marry. Of course, Nepal is worse than India when it comes to economy, but India has a lot to learn from Nepal. India has vast destinations, many geographical locations to offer, while Nepal has only snow. If India wants to encash upon this opportunity, it can earn crores of rupees as foreign exchange by promoting gay tourism.

• The fear of losing social acceptance is one big hindrance in coming out. So, what can be done to gain the support of the society?

To gain social acceptance for anything, one has to strive hard to sensitize the society. We need to bring out the facts, create awareness and clear the misconceptions. I’ll tell you, even when I came out, the initial reactions of some of the people were that they burnt my effigies. Even at that time, I had just one simple media comment. I said, “I don’t blame them. I would have done the same thing if I were at their place. What I blame is their ignorance.” Why should I blame them, because they are not even aware what it is to be a gay or to be homosexual? It is our duty to educate them. As and when I have educated them, media has supported me and people have changed their minds and behavior. So, this is the only solution – education, awareness – whether it is about homosexuality, HIV-AIDS or any other social practice.

• Many young Indians are still in the closet, waiting to come out as homosexuals. What advice do you give to them?

See, there are two aspects of ‘coming out’. The first one is coming out to your own self. This should be the first and foremost thing, as many people are still fighting to come out to themselves because of some or the other fears. My advice to them is that being gay is something very natural and normal. As it is to be straight, it is to be gay. It is just a question of one’s preference or orientation of being attracted to the same sex or the opposite sex. So one should feel proud rather than to have a guilt feeling. And come out to yourself first. And then, in case they wish to come out to their close friends, family or relatives, that is a very personal or secondary choice.

• What is your message to the society?

My message is very clear and simple. We are human beings; treat us with equality, respect and dignity. The way we respect the other people in the world, the same way we expect respect from others.

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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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Capitalism is a difficult phrase that is more than just a set of social and economic practices. It is rather, a way of thinking that is fundamentally individualistic, meaning that the individual is the center of capitalist endeavor.
Basically, capitalism is a situation in which the power lies in the few hands of people who have accumulated the capital. Capital here means land, materials, tools, profits as well as money, which are also the means of production and distribution in a market. The property-owners of these means of production are called “capitalists”. They believe that the market is powerful enough to function without any interference. The role of the State is simply to regulate and protect.

This economic system called capitalism is defined by a few characteristics like: means of production and distribution are privately owned, individuals and companies internally compete for profits, free market forces determine the prices, and all decisions are taken by the private players of the market rather than the central planning by the Government. However, a debate goes on as a group of people define capitalism as an economy where all the resources are privately owned while another group loosely says most of them are in private hands.
Economists generally emphasize that capitalism is a state wherein the Government has no control over the market (called Laissez Faire) and on the property rights. The market is controlled by the competition and the demand and supply ratios. Also, there is a basic agreement that capitalism encourages Economic Growth, Political Freedom and Self Organization and is a Morally Imperative system.

However, criticisms are bound to be present as the other side of the coin. Critics argue that capitalism is unfair distribution of wealth that leads to monopoly, exploitation, inequality, unemployment and economic instability.

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