Law must catalyze social change for the better and not otherwise!

Promotion and protection of human rights, inter alia, necessitate full and creative utilization of all the existing legal and societal provisions.

It is ironic that the law of the land which has to putatively serve the cause of benefiting all and promoting the larger interest of the society is, more often than not, in conflict with the endeavours for the prevention of acquisition of sexually transmitted infections and the containment of HIV/AIDS.

Human behaviour is indeed an interesting interplay of the extant moral, ethical, legal and societal norms asserted and overzealously guarded by the powers that be.

The institutions of family, society and the administrative and legal infrastructure go to any extents to regulate the individual’s behavior by dictating terms to compel him/her to conform to a rigid pattern of behaviour on the pretext of checking deviant behaviour in the interest of the person and the society at large.

As a programme manager for AIDS control in an Indian state for more than eight years, a postgraduate in human rights law and an activist for furthering the rights of the marginalized communities including the people living with HIV (PLHIV), I have been bewildered on several occasions to observe the two arms of the governmental agencies working at cross purposes- both purportedly working as per the law of the land.

One agency works for promotion of health and prevention of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS in such marginalized groups whereas the other arm of the same government may disrupt the rapport with these communities by conducting thoughtless raids and uncalled for arrests compelling the entire activity to go underground and people start operating in a clandestine manner with severing of all linkages and support for health care delivery and preventive efforts.

The response to the pandemic of HIV/AIDS necessitates working specifically with the core transmitter groups/most-at-risk -populations in those geographical areas where the epidemic is still concentrated and is predominantly limited to the so called high risk behaviour groups.

It is ironic that these groups are ‘criminalized populations’ in most of the countries in this part of the globe. There are organized /institutionalized socio-cultural barriers and deterrents which impede these populations from reaching and using the healthcare delivery or justice delivery services. These populations are hindered in terms of access to information, prevention, care, support and treatment because of the ambivalent approach of the governmental functionaries and the society at large.

The operations are very often at loggerheads with the other department/agency. There have been myriad misadventures of throwing the baby along with the bathwater.

Such provisions and actions thereon compel the CSWs, MSM and IDUs to be driven away from the HIV services besides the specific instances of discrimination and even violence at the hands of law enforcing agency with practically no safeguarding of rights from the judicial infrastructure.

The concerned Indian laws viz, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, Section 377 of Indian Penal Code and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act tend to criminalize the CSW, MSM and IDU populations respectively thereby obstructing any prevention, care support and treatment interventions with them.

The assertion of basic rights of behaving in accordance with one’s personal behavioral orientation and choice of livelihood options are also severely hindered by the archaic pieces of legislation which are at best the vestiges of the colonial past. Most of such obsolete laws have already been repealed /supplanted by more progressive and rights based provisions in many other countries.

All the stakeholders must work in complete synergy to ensure decriminalization of the concerned community and /or practice/profession of sex work.

The need of the hour is writ large as the writing on the wall, viz, it is high time we repeal the archaic laws and facilitate concerted collective action for the containment of HIV/AIDS through a mainstreamed and multi-sectoral response which is a must for this gigantic developmental challenge.

Appropriate advocacy, communication and social mobilization at all the levels in tandem through the myriad stakeholders are strongly recommended for the same.

Let us all work for that in all possible ways!

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Comment by Dr Rajesh Gopal on May 3, 2009 at 9:50am
The National Health Bill,HIV/AIDS bill,National Blood Transfusion Bill and Gujarat Public Health Bill are in the final stages and have,by and large,considered those perspectives.
The Right to Information,Consumer Act etc. are at times more relevant than the so called 'health legislation' in view of their more comprehensive approach.
Comment by Gaston on May 3, 2009 at 7:12am
Thanks for this posting. I agree with what is said. At the same time, the Competence of these groups to deal with HIV is not (solely) dependent upon outside laws. The access to health care services is obviously being limited and therefore it's critical we re-examine these so that they indeed catalyse instead of obstruct. In the meantime, these groups can work on their own strengths to take ownership and deal with this issue. It can work in parallel. A great opportunity to show that health goes beyond health care systems (your last posting).

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