Times of India (12.12.2013)
The Times of India reported that India’s Supreme Court decided to uphold Section 377 of the India Penal Code (IPC), which criminalized man-to-man sex as an “unnatural offense.” The decision reversed a 2009 Delhi High Court judgment that decriminalized same-sex relations. AIDS activists feared the Supreme Court decision would be a major setback in their efforts to engage men who have sex with men (MSM) in healthcare and HIV/AIDS prevention.
The international organization Human Rights Watch has documented the Indian legal struggle in its publication “Epidemic of Abuse—Police Harassment of HIV/AIDS Outreach Workers,” describing events from 2001 in which police jailed nongovernmental organization staffers, seized HIV/AIDS materials, and sealed the offices of the Naz Foundation and Bharosa Trust. Naz filed Public Interest Litigation in the Delhi High Court, which overturned the law. The suit subsequently went to India’s Supreme Court for a final ruling. The National AIDS Control Organization filed an affidavit supporting the Naz suit, stating that criminalization would marginalize MSM and make them reluctant to reveal their sexual behavior. Social stigma also could encourage MSM to marry or have sex with female partners, also putting them at risk for HIV. The Supreme Court reinstated IPC Section 377.
India’s central government has estimated the HIV prevalence among India’s gay population at approximately 7 percent. Dr. L. Ramakrishnan, spokesperson for Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India, said the Supreme Court decision on IPC Section 377 would be “devastating” to the HIV/AIDS fight and could reinforce discriminatory attitudes among healthcare professionals. MSM could become afraid to seek healthcare for fear doctors would report them.