Indian Health Minister Calls on Country To Legalize Homosexuality To Improve Fight Against HIV/AIDS
Following his recent efforts to legalize homosexuality in India, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said the country should recognize the increasing acceptance of homosexuality worldwide because such tolerance would ensure "an effective fight against AIDS," IANS/Thaindian News reports (IANS/Thaindian News, 9/29).
Under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code -- which was established under British rule in 1860 -- homosexuality is a crime that carries a punishment of life in prison. The Delhi High Court had been holding daily hearings on a petition that sought to legalize homosexuality, which was supported by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare but opposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs. According to the Centre Party, legalizing homosexuality would have adverse health effects, and the party asked the court to ignore Ramadoss' position on legalizing homosexuality. The health ministry wants to make homosexuality nonpunishable particularly because of the latest figures from the National AIDS Control Organisation that estimate there are 22 million men who have sex with men in the country.
According to NDTV.com, the court questioned the Centre Party's views against homosexuality and called them outdated. Advocates have said that Section 377 goes against fundamental rights, adding that considering the British government repealed the law in 1967, it is time that the Indian government did the same. Sumit Baudh, an advocate for Voices Against 377, said, "I think this fight is about human rights. This fight is about privacy, dignity and equality" (Khanna, NDTV.com, 9/30).
Ramadoss said that he recognizes the social opposition to his call to decriminalize homosexuality but that it is "a very serious issue from the AIDS-control point of view." According to Ramadoss, the National AIDS Control Programme, which is in its third phase from 2007-2012, is being "adversely impacted because it is difficult to reach out to the gay population of the country." He added that 86% of HIV cases in the country are transmitted sexually, a figure that includes MSM and transgender people.
According to Ramadoss, Section 377 also effectively makes it illegal for a physician to treat MSM, as well as for a health care worker to advise MSM about HIV. Ramadoss said, "Imagine the problem this means when it comes to our fight to contain HIV infection" (IANS/Thaindian News, 9/29).