Aarti Dhar

NEW DELHI: India is also going through a process of social change like most liberal countries of the world did before they changed laws related to sexual behaviour.

“The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government here is in a difficult position as far as amending Section 377 of the Constitution is concerned because of the coming elections as any changes could be misrepresented,” according to Jeffrey O’Malley, Director HIV/AIDS Group, Bureau of Development Policy of the United Nations Development Programme.

Talking to The Hindu during his visit to India, Mr. O’Malley appreciated the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry’s move to amend Section 377 that makes unnatural sex (men having sex with men) an offence. However, the Centre has not supported the proposal.

“We need to change the laws, sensitise the police and judiciary,” he said while explaining that amendments were not only about “unnatural sex” or moral or cultural issues, but also about promoting public health and widening the outreach of those working in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention. Evidence and experience had shown that where provisions like Section 377 prevailed, discrimination was rampant and access to HIV/AIDS treatment was less and prevalence of the disease high.

“But when discriminatory laws have been removed, marginalised people have got access to treatment and prevention facilities like condoms,” he added.

Speaking highly of the efforts made by India in HIV/AIDS prevention, Mr. O’Malley said the results had been particularly encouraging in the southern States. Tamil Nadu responded urgently to the situation and succeeded in lowering the infection rate while Andhra Pradesh was slower in response and the outcome of the efforts was yet to be seen. Now Karnataka had also started taking urgent steps.

However, he warned that there was no room for complacency. “India has achieved success in checking the spread of this dreaded disease through commercial sex workers but transmission through gay sex, and injectable-drug users is still an area of concern. “Injectable-drug use can also be controlled through targeted interventions but is difficult to control or change people’s sexual habits.”