India AIDS Agency Pushes for Legalization of Homosexuality
July 20, 2006
In a bid to control the spread of HIV/AIDS in India, a senior official with the country's National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) has asked the Delhi High Court to throw out a law banning homosexuality. Experts argue the law is driving India's estimated 2.5 million gay men underground and making HIV prevention difficult.
"MSM [men who have sex with men] is a high-risk group," said the NACO official, who asked not to be named. "Since we are in the field of AIDS prevention, we have asked for the ban to be lifted."
Section 377 of the penal code forbids "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal." Though few persons are actually prosecuted under the code, AIDS activists say the police use it to harass gays. "Section 377 can adversely contribute to pushing the infection underground, make risky sexual practices go unnoticed and unaddressed," NACO said in its affidavit to the court. "The fear of harassment by law enforcement agencies leads to sex being hurried, leaving partners without the option to consider or negotiate safer sex practices."
NACO noted that more than 8 percent of MSM in India are HIV-infected, compared to less than 1 percent of the general population.
NACO said it filed the affidavit in support of a petition by AIDS activists seeking to amend the law. Last year, India's government said the country was not ready to accept gays. "Public morality must prevail over the exercise of any private right," the government told the Supreme Court in December, which sent the matter back to the Delhi High Court.
Savita Singh of Lawyers Collective, which is representing the activists, said NACO's request "will definitely strengthen our case. The government has been saying homosexuality goes against public morality," said Singh. "Now its own agency is supporting us."
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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.