With finances drying up thanks to a drop in the HIV prevalence in Tamil NAdu, the state's sexual minority communities are struggling to keep community-based organisations alive.

Discontented with the way non-governmental organisations have represented their issues, sex workers and sexuality minorities have formed their own community-based organisations (CBO). As target groups under HIV-AIDS intervention programmes, they have been supported by various national and international grants. But with the flow of resources slowly shrinking, thanks to a drop in the HIV prevalence in the State, these CBOs are now looking for ways to survive.

Female sex workers, transgenders, men who have sex with men (MSM) and other marginalised groups have received attention from government and non-government agencies after being identified as population categories vulnerable to HIV-AIDS.

Funds from the UNAIDS, the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation and the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS) were poured into these organisations to encourage the use of condoms among these communities and to improve awareness on how HIV spreads.

In many cases, these funds have been discontinued. “Tamil Nadu has brought down HIV prevalence to 0.25 per cent and maintained it, so agencies are looking at other high-prevalence States and countries,” says a member of the Centre for Advocacy and Research. TANSACS continues to support a select few CBOs, but the others have been left out in the cold.

The proliferation of CBOs, which have grown in numbers over the last few years, is responsible for this. “Earlier, there were one or two organisations in a region, now there are so many,” says Manjula, a transgender.

Need to go on

“It is important to sustain these organisations as they have played an important role in taking HIV prevention awareness to the marginalised communities. If their work is suspended for want of resources, there is a risk of HIV increasing among the vulnerable groups again,” says a member of We-Community Action Network (V-CAN), a State-level network of community-based organisations working for the upliftment of sexuality minorities.

“It is only because of these funds that we have been able to address the healthcare of members and the education of our children,” says Latha, president of a CBO for former female sex workers. “The grants were helpful for conducting HIV awareness programmes and initiatives to reach out to other MSM,” says Jeevan, a member with a CBO for MSM in Nagapattinam.

“Though we initially focussed on HIV prevention, today we have extended our ambit to addressing violence against members who are subject to discrimination, and legal battles for entitlements.”

Alternative means

Options ranging from approaching the corporate sector to support their endeavours to using the skills of their members -- such as cooking -- to mobilise funds are being debated by CBOs.

“It is a challenge for these groups because they have never had to solicit for resources before,” says an advocacy group member.

"The stigma against them and the fact that they find it difficult to land jobs make it more challenging."