Last edited: April 05, 2004

India’s Gay Community to Fight Fast Spread of AIDS

Associated Press, January 13, 2004

CALCUTTA, India—India’s secretive gay community is emerging to fight the fast spread of the AIDS disease among homosexuals and street children.

At least 10 homosexual groups have formed a common platform called “Manas”—the Hindi word for “thought”—with the intention of stopping the spread of the AIDS, gay activists said Tuesday.

“Ten ... groups have decided to work together against AIDS and the focus would be on spreading awareness and providing support and counseling to homosexuals,” Amitava Sarkar of People Like Us, one of the homosexual groups, told The Associated Press.

Last year about 610,000 Indians contracted the HIV virus that can lead to AIDS, raising the overall number of infected Indians to about 4.5 million, according to a study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That figure, which India’s Health Ministry supports, is the second-highest national total after South Africa. It does not include child victims, who are not counted by the government.

But street children are among the focus groups of the Manas program, said Saurav Banerjee of the Prajak voluntary group.

“Sex happens among street children at a very early age, making them a medium-risk group. So we have decided to involve them in our initiative,” he said.

The campaign will begin in Calcutta, capital of West Bengal state, where some 200,000 children are estimated to live on the streets.

Homosexuality is banned in India under a law first framed by British colonialists. Manas members said the AIDS control program would be hampered if the government does not withdraw the law because homosexuals will not seek screening for the disease or help to combat it.

“Homosexuality is practiced clandestinely and it will remain so if the government continues to consider gays and lesbians criminals. And this will not help fight AIDS among homosexuals,” said Sarkar.

The Manas campaign is financed solely by the West Bengal state government.

The east Indian state has agreed to fund Manas because the program itself is not identified as homosexual, said Suresh Kumar, an official with the West Bengal state AIDS Cell, a government department.

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