Members of the Karnataka Sex Workers' Union and HIV/AIDS activists staged a snap protest at the programme organised by the Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society (KSAPS) on the occasion of World AIDS Day here on Wednesday.
The protesters, sporting black banners, black flags and red umbrellas (the international symbol for sex workers) raised slogans against the KSAPS and threw pamphlets in the air.
Charging KSAPS with routinely violating human rights, they condemned what they called its “illegal and inhuman practices.” They demanded the suspension of the KSAPS Joint Director, stoppage of line-listing in targeted interventions, forced HIV testing and breaking confidentiality of people living with HIV.
Manohar Elavarthi from Sangama charged that KSAPS forces all non-government organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) implementing HIV prevention projects among sex workers and sexual minority communities to maintain a line list of all the people they are reaching out to.
The line list contains a lot of personal information, which is often collected without the consent of the people concerned. “The information is taken by KSAPS, which violates the right to privacy and confidentiality. It exposes people to greater stigma and discrimination,” Mr. Manohar said. He also demanded that KSAPS stop forced HIV testing, which is against the national policy of voluntary testing.
“The national policy on testing makes it mandatory to keep a person's HIV status confidential. However, most HIV testing centres seem to break the confidentiality by handing over the information to the NGOs and CBOs running HIV prevention programmes, which is a criminal offence,” he said.
Veena, an activist, alleged that the role of the activists in HIV awareness programmes is not acknowledged.
“Contrary to the promises made by KSAPS, HIV-affected people are not given nutritious food, neither do they get free treatment or medicines. Pregnant women are dying as hospitals refuse treatment.”
Actor Pooja Gandhi, one of the chief guests on the occasion, intervened and tried to calm the protesters. However, the activists refused to budge and demanded that the Government listen to them and fulfil all their demands. In the melee, E.V. Ramana Reddy, Principal Secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare, beat a hasty retreat. Earlier, Ms. Gandhi said that people with HIV/AIDS have the right to lead a normal life.
She urged youngsters to use condoms and get tested when in doubt. She also acknowledged the efforts of the sex workers and HIV-affected persons in creating awareness in society and fighting against the stigma.
Students who had won the essay, slogan-writing and poster competitions were given prizes while representatives of hospitals and primary health centres where maximum deliveries of HIV affected women had taken place were awarded.
D.N. Nayak, Commissioner of Department of Health; S. Selvakumar, Mission Director of National Rural Health Mission; and R.R. Jannu, Project Director of KSAPS, were present.
Cultural programmes were organised on the occasion.