Reform of laws on HIV sought

Published: February 1, 2012

Every time Priya goes to the airport, she hopes the security guy at the gate does not know to read Tamil. With a voter ID card that says male in Tamil and female in English, she, as a transgender, faces the problem of having multiple identities, and she is certainly not alone.

People belonging to the transgender community like Priya were among the participants at a regional consultation organised by the V-Community Action Network and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Law and UNAIDS Technical Support Facility for South Asia that took place here on Tuesday. Over 60 persons, including commercial sex workers, transgenders, people living with HIV and Men having Sex with Men (MSM) participated.

“Tamil Nadu may have been the frontrunner in improving the lives of the transgender community, but the focus has been more on the welfare, not on legal policies. Proper implementation of policies is what we want,” said S. Noori, president of the South India Positive Network.

Members of the community highlighted their concerns, including the need for social protection and scientific sex change operations. “The Transgender Welfare Board started in 2008 is almost dysfunctional now. There is no way our grievance can be heard,” said Ms. Noori. The participants discussed the need to reform laws related to HIV/AIDS, particularly ones that reinforce bias against persons with HIV. Since same-sex marriages are illegal, such couples cannot adopt or even buy a life insurance policy, among other things.

“Many police station and officials, to ensure they have a certain number of cases at the end of the year, arrest sex workers and make sure they get summoned and later arrested. Some even don’t know that paid sex is not punishable in India, only soliciting is,” said Tito Thomas, director, Centre for Social Research and Development.

Organisations need to stand up in defence of the community, besides providing intervention during crisis, said E. Manohar, a social activist from Karnataka. Mr. Manohar said that adult women, who were victims of trafficking, were often kept in government homes, worse than jails, and given an upkeep amount of not more than Rs.13 a day. The recent changes in laws in many countries, including Sweden, Denmark, and others to criminalise clients show that international communities too fail to understand how that would add to the insecurities of the sex workers, he said. Karnataka, he said, recently became the first State to allow all forms of transgenders to avail the benefits that backward classes do.

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