Human Rights and Law Defenders advocate for legal and policy protections for persons affected by HIV/AIDS or who have a high risk of infection. For this purpose, they provide legal aid to the affected and actively fight for protecting legal reforms at their Legal Aid and Guidance Centre in Pune. One of their work projects for example, is the constant campaigning for a repeal of an antiquated sodomy law that contributes to police abuse of HIV/AIDS homosexual educators.
- Further, the Centre works for the protection of the rights of women in prostitution. They visit red light districts to educate them about their rights and empower them to demand life saving safe sex of clients. In case of rights violations they will teach them how to file suits and claim their rights.Moreover, they are working for AIDS-affected children in different ways: on one hand, they are promoting the rights of a child to ensure protection of girls against the widely spread sexual abuse; on the other hand, they are fighting for the utilization of avenues of legal recourse for children without relatives to turn to.
Education about HIV/AIDS and the rights of affected people within the societyMany investments in HIV/AIDS programs and policies are doomed to fail, if the society is still unaware of the issue of HIV and their ignorance towards the disease and the affected is contributing to the stigmatisation of them. Despite policies, the disease will further spread. To efficiently fight HIV, HRLD regards the education of the society about AIDS and the application of a human rights focus when dealing with this issue are regarded as crucial.
Therefore, the Sahyog Trust regularly conducts campaigns for more legal awareness and is engaged in educating the affected about their rights, as well as training the public to respect those rights just as of any other person. Campaigns will be set up in public places, or locations where there are high risks of infection, such as prisons or the red lights districts. To reach broader masses, HRLD is teaching other educators about HIV so they again can teach people within their reach and raise a supporting awareness about the affected people.
ResearchTo analyse the state of knowledge and meet the needs and lacks within the society, the legal HIV-Centre has started the HIV/AIDS Legal Support Initiative (HALSI) (an initiative of Sahyog Trust). They conducted a survey with a simple questionnaire of 15 questions among lawyers, where they got some unflattering and glaring answers.
[read the detailed report of survey]
In general the results showed that young advocates in the age group of 25-30 were more open in answering the questions and also finding out the answers when they did not know one. In contrast, the more established lawyers did not feel the need to answer the questions with the excuse that they were simply not interested. This shows the sensitivity or rather the lack of it of some people from the law fraternity. One observation that was generally made during the survey was that female advocates of all age groups were more willing to answer and get to know about the issue. 95% of the lawyers in the male and female category did not know what HIV/AIDS stood for. The small number of people who knew it, knew only what either HIV or AIDS stood for.
Besides knowing about the problem of missing knowledge of the society on HIV, documenting human rights abuses related to disease is essential in combating the epidemic. HRLD is therefore continuously studying the situation of HIV-affected living in India. This work builds naturally on Human Rights and Law Defenders’ large body of research on discrimination, women’s and children’s rights, rights of prisoners, and persecution of marginalized groups.
HIV/AIDS Legal Support Initiative (HALSI), an initiative of Sahyog Trust did a survey with a simple questionnaire of 15 questions among the lawyers. Through the survey we got some unflattering and glaring answers. We also realized that young advocates in the age group of 25-30 were more open in answering the questions and also finding out the answers when they did not know one. But the more established lawyers did not feel the need to answer the questions with an excuse that they were simply not interested. This shows the sensitivity or rather the lack of it of some people from the law fraternity. One observation that was generally made during the survey was that female advocates of all age groups were mare willing to answer and know the issue 95% of the lawyer in the male and female category did not know what HIV/AIDS stood for. The small number of people, who knew, either knew only HIV stood for or AIDS.
In Pune 36% female lawyers answered that People Living with HIV/AIDS(PLWHA) did not have legal rights whereas 12% male lawyers thought the same and 8% male lawyers did not know about the rights of PLWHA. In Nagpur 17.5% male lawyers said that they did not have rights while 20% female lawyers said they were not aware if PLWHA have legal rights.
It is all the more surprising to hear 12.5% of male advocates of Nagpur to say that HIV is transmitted through mosquitoes. 11% male advocates of Yavatmal and 8% female advocates of Pune said that HIV is transmitted by using the same bathroom. While most of them said that HIV cannot be transmitted by touching; 6% male advocates from Pune, 23% male advocates from Yavatmal and 20% male advocates from Akola said that HIV can be transmitted by touching a PLWHA. These statistics drive home the point that there needs to be awareness on basics like how HIV is not transmitted.
11%,10%,6% and 4% male advocates from Ahmednagar, Akola, Yavatmal and Pune respectively said that PLWHA can be removed from employment on the grounds that he/she is affected with HIV. Here it came to light that female advocates are better informed as only 4% and 7% female advocates from Pune and Yavatmal respectively said that PLWHA can be removed with employment.
What came as an atrocious answer was when 30%,42%,25% and 24% of male advocates from, Yavatmal, Nagpur and Pune respectively said that there is no discrimination faced by the PLWHAS,45% ,36% and 28% female advocates from Akola, Yavatmal and Pune respectively said that there is no discrimination faced by PLWHA.
36% male advocates of Pune that there is a special law passes in India to protect the rights of the PLWHA. This answer came as a surprise because it threw light on the ignorance of lawyers on the issue. Once again the female advocates were better informed than their male counterparts.
There were mixed feelings from advocates across when they were asked if PLWHA have a right to marry.40% male and female advocates from Akola and Pune respectively said that they do not have a right to marry. Most of them said that though PLWHA have a legal right to marry they should not marry. It is not ethical on their part to marry whether they have disclosed their HIV status or not.
Most of the lawyers said if a person does not disclose his/her HIV status before marriage. the spouse can file for divorce.But 29% female advocates from Yawatmal and 35% male advocates from Nagpur said that divorce cannot be got on the ground that HIV status was not disclosed to the other party.
When asked if there are special hospitals for PLWHA more than 50% of the advocates said there are special hospitals. Some of them did not know and some others said that we are not from the medical background and so we will not be able to answer.
On an average 85% advocates said that children of PLWHA can go to the same schools as other children.. But surprisingly 15%, 14%, 11% and 10% male advocates from Nagpur, Pune, yavatmal and Akola repectively said that they cannot go to the same schools. This shows the need to work even with the literates to demystify the myths that are associated with the transmission of the epidemic.
More than 90% of them said PLWHA can use the public taps and wells there 25% and 12% male advocates from Yavatmal and Pune who said that they should not be allowed to use water from the public tap or well.
We were stunned to know that 33% and 30% male advocates from Ahmednagar and Akola respectively think that PLWHA should stay seperataly from the mainstream society so as to stop the spread of the epidemic. 20% and 16%of male advocates from Yavatmal and Pune. Respectively were of the same opinion. The female advocates came out strongly opposing the idea of keeping PLWHA separately from the mainstream society as unnecessary with and exception of 7% from Yavatmal, 4% from Akola and 2% from Pune who said that they must live separately.
All in all from the findings in the survey there is a crying need felt to work with different fraternities on the issue of HIV/AIDS and law specially with the lawyers as they are supposed to be well informed on the legal rights of masses. HALSI is probably the only initiative working with various networks of positive people across Maharashtra to impart the information of HIV and law in the local language and it wishes to start working with the lawyers across Maharashtra to sensitize them in understanding and handling the cases of PLWHA.
HALSI does not claim the survey to be a perfect one as it was an attempt to understand and assess the need to work in the law fraternity. HALSI regrets that it has to limit its reach at times due to lack of funds to support the cause.
There is a need to get to the root of the issue. So just talking about distributing condoms will not help in preventing HIV transmission. We need to talk about sexuality, gender equality. Law and judiciary is one of the means to reach the end of overcoming the problem of discrimination and stigmatization of the PLWHA. There needs to be communication between people to solve any social problem as the people of the society have to come together to curb the problem of the society.
Our team who did the survey:
Adv. Rama Sarode, Adv. Asim Sarode, Rasika Kulkarni, Dr. Smita Singalkar, Dr. Ravindra Bhusari, Maya Dhobale, Adv. Rahul Sarode, Mallika, Nidhi, Ashok Gore, Adv. Rajendra Anubhule, Anuja Bulankar, Sanjay Jadhav, Adv. Umesh Bhagwat