Worried about the shrinking space for civil society organisations in India, HIV activists from around the world protested outside the Indian embassy in Durban, South Africa. Humanitarian aid organisations have expressed concern over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s crackdown on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), particularly Lawyers Collective, stating that it will have a direct impact on India’s HIV response.
In a press statement, activists said “this condemnation needs to be seen in the context of the ongoing U.N. General Assembly Special Session on AIDS in New York. While on the one hand member States of the U.N. [including India] are pledging support to end AIDS by 2030, organisations such as Lawyers Collective in India, who have stood for the rights of those most affected by HIV, are being baselessly harassed, victimised and silenced.” The activists handed over a petition to the consulate, which has been signed by organisations are attending the international public health event.Curb on donations
In June, the government suspended the legal aid organisation’s registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) for 6 months, meaning it could no longer receive any donations from abroad. The Lawyer’s Collective has been instrumental in drafting the HIV/AIDS Bill, 2014 — a landmark anti-discrimination legislation.
“We are extremely concerned about the situation in India. The government understand how important civil society is, and has been, to the global AIDS response. It was basis for achieving political commitment, driving treatment rollout. India needs it’s civil society more than ever because as of now 2.3 million are HIV positive but only 1 million people on treatment. Organisations like the Lawyers Collective have been at the forefront of activism,” said Mark Heywood, Executive Director of SECTION27, a law centre promoting human rights.
“We have not been able to work and our work in HIV is being impeded. We have taken up certain cases, which are not to the liking of present government. Irrespective of funding problems, we will continue our work,” said Anand Grover, founder member of the Lawyers Collective.
Besides the clampdown on NGOs, another significant concern voiced by the international community was the change in India’s policy towards Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).
“India is the pharmacy of the world and remains vital to nearly 70 million on treatment. Another 20 million people will be on treatment in the next 5 years… If India changes its stand, patients across the world will suffer,” Mr. Heywood added.