Arrests of AIDS Outreach Workers in India Trigger Activist Protests
Activists representing nearly 40 organizations demonstrated in Delhi on Monday in a sit-in protest of the July 7 arrest and continued detention of four AIDS outreach workers in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Reuters Health reports. The detained individuals worked for two NGOs, the Naz Foundation International and Bharosa Trust, that provide HIV/AIDS education and prevention services for men who have sex with men. Uttar Pradesh police arrested the workers for "promoting homosexuality, which is inimical to Indian cultural values" and charged them with crimes that fall under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including Section 377 -- "criminal conspiracy to cause the commission of carnal intercourse against the order of nature" -- and sections relating to obscenity laws, the Copyright Act and the Indecent Representation of Women Act. They are being held without bail until an Aug. 16 hearing.
The NGOs said that the arrests are among a series of "repressive measures unleashed by government agencies against NGOs working on sexuality-related issues" in Uttar Pradesh and criticized the government for human rights violations based on sexual orientation, its failure to protect NGOs performing HIV/AIDS services and the misuse of Section 377. The NGOs said in a statement, "This case has serious implications for any organization working in a field which might be deemed inappropriate -- be it sexual and reproductive health, safe sex and HIV/AIDS interventions, right to health ... [or] any human rights issue." Anand Grover, director of the HIV/AIDS unit of the Lawyers Collective, told Reuters Health, "The implications of such acts are going to be disastrous. Lots of groups would not be interested in availing the services in such circumstances and interventions would not reach out to the people intended. How are we to fight HIV/AIDS under the circumstances?" Dennis Altman, co-chair of the Sixth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, said he was concerned about the arrests. "Such work with hard-to-reach, marginalized and stigmatized populations is recognized globally as central to every country's effectiveness in combating HIV/AIDS and conforms with the 'best practice' models of HIV prevention promoted by international agencies such as UNAIDS," he said. Protests of the arrests have begun in several other Indian cities, including Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Bombay, Bangalore and Pune (Kumar, Reuters Health, 8/13).