Fear on the Front Line in India -- AIDS Prevention Workers Say Police Harass Them as Crisis Spirals
November 19, 2002
Human rights groups say police in India routinely harass, beat and arrest AIDS workers, citing the colonial era Section 377 of the Penal Code criminalizing "unnatural acts," to justify their actions. Health workers say the police also regularly extort money from female prostitutes and bisexual or gay men. J.V.R. Prasada Rao, former project director for the government's National AIDS Control Organization, denies the allegations of widespread police abuse of AIDS workers.Adapted from:
In Bangalore this year, employees of the charitable organization Samraksha reported that the police arrested several of their female workers, then rubbed hot peppers in their eyes and mouths, and in one detaineee's vagina. Because they walk the streets to educate prostitutes about AIDS, the workers were accused of being prostitutes themselves -- even though the charity has existed since 1993 and is partially funded by the government.
Because they are deeply stigmatized in India, many men who have sex with men get married to disguise being gay, making housewives the latest group to show alarming rates of infection. Health workers estimate that 40 percent of Bombay's male prostitutes are married.
India's sex workers include 1.2 million hijra, an Urdu term for transsexuals, cross-dressers, hermaphrodites and castrated men. Despised -- as well as feared, due to the ancient belief they can cast curses -- the hijra "know about AIDS, but most are working without protection," said Khairati Lal Bhola, who has worked with hijra on health and legal issues for 40 years. "Their customers want more enjoyment, not condoms."
"It is not uncommon to hear people in positions of power say the disease may be a good way to control the population," said Anjali Gopalan, executive director of Naz Foundation International, which provides condoms and sex education to gay men. "Look at who is dying. It is the poor, the disenfranchised, the undesirables. But it is not going to stay that way."
San Francisco Chronicle
11.17.02; Juliette Terzieff
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.