HIV/AIDS Advocates Say India’s Law Criminalizing Homosexuality Hinders HIV Prevention
International human rights groups and gay rights advocates in India on Saturday in an open letter called on the government to repeal its law criminalizing homosexuality, saying the law is affecting the fight against HIV/AIDS, the New York Times reports. The law, enacted in 1861 and known as Section 377, makes "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman or animal" punishable by up to 10 years in prison and, when strictly interpreted, makes it illegal to distribute condoms to gay men and men in prison (Sengupta, New York Times, 9/16). The letter is signed by members of academia, writers, lawyers and artists and was spearheaded by author Vikram Seth. Other notable signatories include former U.N. Under-Secretary General Nitin Desai, a former attorney general of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party Soli Sorabjee, and author Arundhati Roy, Reuters AltertNet reports. According to the letter, the law has "been used to systematically persecute, blackmail, arrest and terrorize sexual minorities," and the law has "on several recent occasions been used by homophobic officials to suppress the legitimate work of HIV prevention groups, leaving gay and bisexual men in India even more defenseless against HIV infection" (Williams, Reuters AlertNet, 9/16). According to the Times, the law -- which seldom is used to prosecute gay adults in consensual relationships -- is most often used to arrest offenders in cases of sexual abuse of children. Some people warn that if the law is repealed, efforts to prosecute people who commit sexual abuses against children could be negatively affected (New York Times, 9/16). Denis Broun, UNAIDS India coordinator, in January said that India's laws against homosexuality are hindering prevention efforts in the country. He added that the "[c]riminalization of people most at risk of HIV infection may increase stigma and discrimination, ultimately fueling the AIDS epidemic." Official figures show roughly 5.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in India, but UNAIDS and nongovernmental organizations say the numbers are much higher (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/12). The statute is being challenged under a 2001 lawsuit brought by the Naz Foundation India Trust, the Times reports. The Delhi High Court initially threw out the case, but the Supreme Court of India earlier this year instructed the high court to review the case again. The next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 4, according to the Times. The office of the solicitor general of India declined to comment on the law because it is under litigation, the Times reports (New York Times, 9/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.