Obsolete Indian law, a major obstacle to combat AIDS: UN

New Delhi, Mon, 17 Nov 2008 NI Wire

The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Peter Piot, who is on his official visit to India, said to media on Sunday that an outdated Indian law that criminalises sex between men is a major obstacle to curb the rising reach of HIV/AIDS in India.

Quoting to Section 377 (the law against the sexual offence under Indian Penal Code - IPC) Peter, who is also the UN Under Secretary General said, “Section 377 is part of the colonial heritage and should have been abolished a long time back. It is a violation of human rights and a major obstacle in fighting HIV/AIDS.”

The section 377 or ‘Anti-sodomy Law’ was drafted in 1860 during the British period by Lord Macaulay that quotes, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Piot has also indicated that similar type of ‘anti-sodomy law’ exists in other Islamic countries and Singapore. “Just map the world and you will see that wherever the British have ruled, this penal provision exists,” said Piot.

But now, the rule should be changed as it happened in Belgium, “I am from Belgium. It was there too. The law has changed and now same sex marriages are allowed, ” said Peter.

The section 377 came in the limelight in 2001when a public suit was filed against this law in the Delhi High Court. The hearing is still going on.

According to an earlier report of UNAIDS, there are 2.50 millions of people including 70,000 children below 14-years of age already suffering from the AIDS, and if it has not been prevented, the figure can easily go up to 10-million by 2010. The 86% HIV infection spread through sexual route including men having sex with men (MSM) and transgender, while 10% through intravenous drug users.

The provision against the homosexuality is one of the biggest barriers to seek out the sick persons as it is a societal taboo and people are afraid to talk about their sexual preferences, which is leading to rise in the infection rate.

“For India now, the focus area is the MSM population. This is a problem, which is common to other Asian countries also. It has become quite an epidemic among this group - just as it was in the western countries in the 1980s,” said Peter.

“Why is discrimination shown towards a person because of his sexual orientation? It is a human rights violation. This could pose a problem for public health preparedness. It is important that this provision must be abolished as the law is impeding to our efforts,” Piot added.

Piot has also appreciated the efforts of Union Health Minister of India Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, who came in the support of gay rights and fought to eliminate the section 377 from the constitution, but after receiving severe criticism from their own colleagues, he adopted a defensive approach and asked to modify the Section instead of scraping it.

The Indian government, on the other hand, has been divided over scrapping the penal provision ever since the matter came up to the Delhi High Court.


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