Step Up the Pace Against Section 377 in India

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In December 2013, the Indian Supreme Court upheld Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code recriminalizing homosexuality in the country. The months since the judgement have been a time of uncertainty for the LGBT community about what lies ahead. The recent general elections saw political parties taking various positions on LGBT rights which resulted in heated debates in the media. Just last week in a surprise move, the new Health Minister spoke in support of gay rights. Through all this, the curative petition challenging the Supreme Court judgement is waiting to be heard.

The reaction from the LGBT community has ranged from anger and anguish to action inspiring the formation of new queer collectives and new projects responding to the needs of the community. The environment is a mixture of mistrust and determination, from watching one’s back to stepping up the tempo. This week, the International AIDS Conference is meeting in Melbourne, Australia to understand and discuss, among other issues, the HIV response for the communities of men who have sex with men and transgenders. Alliance India will be highlighting our “207 against 377” campaign that brings together the 207 organisations implementing Pehchan to fight Section 377.

As activists, community groups, and AIDS organizations come together to discuss important health and social issues facing sexual and gender minorities, it’s time to pause and take a hard look at what Section 377 means. It’s a law which oppresses LGBT communities for sure, but it is also an impediment to the realisation of basic human rights in the world’s largest democracy. Doing away with this law will influence other struggles against social injustice in a vastly complex country where people are oppressed not only because of their sexual orientation, but also their caste, class, religion and gender. Reading down 377 will be a victory for every citizen of India and for every human being across the world.

Please join Alliance India in the ‘207 against 377’ campaign. Visit our booth (#616) at AIDS 2014 to learn more.

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Shaleen Rakesh is a gay rights activist and was instrumental in filing the Section 377 petition on behalf of Naz Foundation (India) Trust in 2001. Shaleen manages the ‘207 against 377’ campaign at India HIV/AIDS Alliance, where he also serves as Director: Technical Support. The campaign brings together the 207 organizations implementing the Pehchan programme on a common platform to undertake advocacy at national, state and district levels to protest against the 11th December 2013 Supreme Court judgment upholding constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code thereby recriminalizing same-sex sexual behaviour. 

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United Against Homophobia: Bringing Pehchan’s Human Rights Model to Uganda

Vijay Nair (left) from Alliance India with workshop participants from Sexual Minorities Uganda and Alliance colleagues, Enrique Restoy and Mala Ram.

Vijay Nair (left) from Alliance India with workshop participants from Sexual Minorities Uganda and Alliance colleagues, Enrique Restoy and Mala Ram.

“It was my view that homosexuality should be punished harshly in order to defend our society from disorientation.” – Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, while signing Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law on February 25, 2014.

 “While reading down Section 377 IPC, the Division Bench of the High Court overlooked that a miniscule fraction of the country’s population constitute LGBT…in its anxiety to protect the so-called rights of LGBT persons…” – The Supreme Court of India on December 11, 2013, while delivering its judgment on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that recriminalizes same-sex sexual behavior.

While Uganda and India may be separated by 3,500 miles, they have one thing in common: unjust laws against sexual minorities. Uganda recently adopted harsh new laws that further criminalize homosexuality, while last December India recriminalized gay sex, reversing a 2009 Delhi High Court decision. Consequently, both nations have witnessed a significant rise in acts of violence against the LGBT community, driving an already marginalized community further underground and making the uptake of HIV services all the more difficult.

In response to these disturbing developments, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance is rolling out the Human Rights Management Reporting System (HRMRS), a community-based system to monitor and respond to barriers to accessing HIV services. The system, once fully operational, will allow community-based organizations, the Alliance’s Linking Organizations, and other partners to collect and analyse data on human rights violations experienced by programme beneficiaries and clients. The evidence generated by the system will be used to improve interventions, ensure protection of rights, and inform advocacy.

As an early step in this process, the development of the HRMRS has been informed by a dialogue with members of Uganda’s LGBT community. I travelled to Entebbe from my home in Hyderabad to provide technical support to this process, building on my almost four years with India HIV/AIDS Alliance (Alliance India) in Andhra Pradesh. Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) is a key implementing partner for this initiative.

As a gay man living with HIV, I know too well how important it is to confront the human rights barriers that prevent sexual and gender minorities from reaching HIV services. It was an honour for me to share Alliance India’s experience from the Global Fund-supported Pehchan programme rolling out Crisis Response Teams (CRTs) at the grass-root level in India.

In a dynamic discussion with the board and staff of SMUG as well as other community leaders, the Pehchan CRT model was discussed in detail, including: team formation; inclusion of key stakeholders; building capacities of team members; data collection and documentation of cases of violence and harassment; redressal of such cases; advocacy initiatives and solidarity events at national, state and district level; and sensitization meetings with law enforcement agencies, media and health care providers. Based on Pehchan’s learnings, this process helped frame HRMRS components on stigma, discrimination, impact of violence, and support systems.

“The situation in Uganda is extremely grim and a matter of great concern. After the Anti-Homosexuality Law was passed, communities have gone underground, accounts on social media have been deleted, and HIV-related service uptake has been hampered drastically. Despite Section 377, India has a gay movement that has been successful in generating support from a wide range of stakeholders, including India’s Department of AIDS Control, the media, and even a few political parties. Though social settings are quite different in each country, Uganda can learn a lot from India,” said Edith Mukisa, Executive Director of Community Health Alliance Uganda (CHAU).

She further proposed to visit India along with doctors and officials from Uganda’s Most At Risk Populations Initiative” (MARPI) to understand Pehchan’s advocacy efforts. With support from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, MARPI supplements the Ugandan Ministry of Health efforts to expand interventions to MARPs.

As both Uganda and India share a bitter colonial past and an ugly history of homophobia, it is essential that we work together, share our successes, prepare together for our challenges, and strive as one for a better tomorrow for sexual and gender minorities all over the world.

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The author of this post, Vijay Nair is a Programme Manager: Pehchan at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in Andhra Pradesh. 

With support from the Global FundPehchan builds the capacity of 200 community-based organisations (CBOs) for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgenders and hijras in 17 states in India to be more effective partners in the government’s HIV prevention programme. By supporting the development of strong CBOs, Pehchan addresses some of the capacity gaps that have often prevented CBOs from receiving government funding for much-needed HIV programming. Named Pehchan which in Hindi means ‘identity’, ‘recognition’ or ‘acknowledgement,’ this programme is implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance in consortium with Humsafar Trust, PNRO, SAATHIISangamaAlliance India Andhra Pradesh, and SIAAP and will reach more than 450,000 MSM, transgenders and hijras by 2015. It is the Global Fund’s largest single-country grant to date focused on the HIV response for vulnerable sexual minorities.

Trans-formation to End Discrimination (#IDAHOT 2014)

Alliance India’s Simran Shaikh, a hijra and AIDS activist, speaks out against discrimination and for LGBT equality.

Alliance India’s Simran Shaikh, a hijra and AIDS activist, speaks out against discrimination and for LGBT equality.

May 17th marks International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) around the world. I am sitting in my office at Alliance India in New Delhi as I gather my thoughts on the stigma and discrimination I have faced my whole life because I subvert gender conventions. My journey from a Parsi boy to a transgender activist has been filled with discrimination, stigma, violence, silent screams, and also triumphs. (Read more about Simran’s life.)

To honour this global day that celebrates sexual and gender diversity, I want to share my thoughts on the recent Indian Supreme Court judgement protecting the rights of transgenders.

On April 15th this year, the Supreme Court judgment recognised the third gender in India and granting legal recognition to Indians who identify as neither male nor female – to those of us those who identify as transgender women and men or as hijras. “Discrimination is no longer my favourite word,” I yelled with pride as my friends joined in the celebrations after this landmark judgment. The ruling guarantees the nation’s transgender population essential rights, including equal access to education and employment In India.

But will this stop people from staring at me on Delhi Metro trains, autorickshaw wallahs refusing me rides, and fellow passengers moving away from me on buses? Why do they do this you wonder? Because my existence bothers them. I don’t seem to fit the boxes they have neatly packed themselves into. I refuse to look and behave the way they expect. I offend their sensibilities by being me. Can a judgment validating my existence change all this? I don’t know, but it feels like we’re on the right track.

Homophobia is an aversion towards those whose sexual behavior differs from the heteronormative, and transphobia is an aversion to those whose gender identities transcend the male-female gender binary. Negative attitudes manifest in many ways, from contempt, fear and hatred to verbal abuse, harassment, and violence. Are these attitudes rational? In most cases,they are rooted in a belief that our differences are against the order of nature.

Over India’s history, hijras have been a revered community, but when this region was colonised by the British, regressive laws were put in place outlawing homosexuality and criminalising these communities. Sixty-seven years after independence from British rule, the third gender has been given legal protection in India. I don’t know how many more years will pass before the repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises consensual same-sex sexual behavior.

While the struggle to end discriminatory laws continues, I am deeply troubled by the everyday injustices faced by my LGBT brothers and sisters. We need to fight the internalised homophobia and transphobia in our communities and transform our fear of our own gender and sexual identities. We must celebrate who we are. Violence and discrimination must not be tolerated anymore. It cannot be a crime to exist. To deny our right to exist is the crime!

I am a proud member of the hijra community. In my teens, rejected by my family, I was given shelter by a hijra when all other doors were closed to me. Even today there are few professional options for someone like me. As a member of the Alliance India team, I’m fortunate to be doing professional work in HIV/AIDS that can have such a great impact on the transgender community in India. I dream of a day when all who are like me are given equal opportunities to thrive. Equal opportunity on paper must be put into practice. Changing attitudes will open minds, and with open minds, we can trans-form the world.

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The author of this post, Simran Shaikh, is a Programme Officer for the Pehchan programme at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.

With support from the Global Fund, Pehchan builds the capacity of 200 community-based organisations (CBOs) for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgenders and hijras in 17 states in India to be more effective partners in the government’s HIV prevention programme. By supporting the development of strong CBOs, Pehchan addresses some of the capacity gaps that have often prevented CBOs from receiving government funding for much-needed HIV programming. Named Pehchan which in Hindi means ‘identity’, ‘recognition’ or ‘acknowledgement,’ this programme is implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance in consortium with Humsafar Trust, PNRO, SAATHII, Sangama, Alliance India Andhra Pradesh, and SIAAP and will reach more than 450,000 MSM, transgenders and hijras by 2015. It is the Global Fund’s largest single-country grant to date focused on the HIV response for vulnerable sexual minorities.

‘207 against 377’: A Step Towards Reclaiming Our Rights

The national Pehchan consultation on Section 377 was attended by more than 100 community stakeholders and activists, including prominent transgender leader Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi. (Photo by India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

The national Pehchan consultation on Section 377 was attended by more than 100 community stakeholders and activists, including prominent transgender leader Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi. (Photo by India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

December 11th, 2013 was a black day in the history of India’s human rights movement. On this day, the Supreme Court of India set aside the historic judgment of Delhi High Court in 2009 and, by affirming the constitutionality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, recriminalized same-sex sexual behavior. The judgment, best described as ‘regressive’ and ‘derogatory’, noted that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are a ‘miniscule minority’ and our rights are ‘so-called’.

The Constitution of India guarantees a life of equality and dignity to every citizen, irrespective of caste, creed, religion and sex, but the Supreme Court lost the opportunity to protect the rights of sexual and gender minorities. The denial has made India’s LGBT community yet more vulnerable to stigma, harassment and violence. The court dealt another blow to the community in early 2014 when it also rejected all petitions to review the judgment.

The judgment was a huge setback to a marginalized and often hidden community that was beginning to come out of the closet after the 2009 decision, but the spirit to fight back and reclaim our rights is now even stronger. There has been a concerted effort by a range of civil society organisations, such as Voices Against 377, Lawyers Collective and Naz Foundation (India) among others, to make sure that this community momentum leads toward a coherent movement that will in time overturn the Supreme Court’s backward judgment.

The Global Fund-supported Pehchan programme is joining the challenge. Pehchan works with MSM, transgender and hijra (MTH) communities on issues of HIV and health in 17 states of India through consortium partners including India HIV/AIDS Alliance, Humsafar Trust, SAATHII, Sangama, SIAAP, Pehchan North Region Office (PNRO) and Alliance India Andhra Pradesh. In collaboration with the 200 community-based organisation supported under Pehchan, these 207 partners leveraged their collective passion and determination and launched the 207 against 377’ campaign.

Through the campaign, partner organisations will reach out to various stakeholders including political parties, religious leaders, media and educational institutions to sensitise them on the challenges facing LGBT communities. The campaign will contribute to the public discourse on Section 377 and will highlight how the law undermines the fundamental rights of LGBT people in India. The campaign will influence general attitudes and government policies so as to protect the wellbeing and dignity of LGBT Indians.

To initiate this national effort, Pehchan organized a daylong national consultation on February 6th that was attended by LGBT community members and leaders from across India including Ashok Row Kavi, Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi and Manohar Elavarthi. Speakers emphasized the importance of political engagement and the involvement of religious leaders. It was agreed that there is a need for a clear strategic plan of action against the Supreme Court judgment.

During the consultation, community members voiced their concerns about Section 377. Arvind Narain from the Alternative Law Forum provided a legal overview of the judgment and Anand Grover from Lawyers Collective discussed the next legal steps. The consultation generated an active dialogue and generated multiple ideas to build advocacy momentum. As next steps, the consultation identified priority actions to move advocacy forward:

  • Documentation of cases of stigma, discrimination and violence faced by the LGBT community;
  • Sensitization of judges at district, state and national level;
  • Dialogue with religious leaders and political parties;
  • Engagement of the media to highlight the challenges caused by the judgment;
  • Regular rallies; and
  • Linking activities to other rights movements in India.

The ‘207 against 377’ campaign will also organize 17 state-level consultations – one in each Pehchan state – on Section 377 and 200 district-level consultations through Pehchan CBOs.

This is just the beginning. The national campaign will reach out to the LGBT community and stakeholders at all levels. We will keep you updated on progress.

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The author of this post, Yadavendra Singh, is Advocacy Manager at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.

With support from the Global FundPehchan builds the capacity of 200 community-based organisations (CBOs) for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgenders and hijras in 17 states in India to be more effective partners in the government’s HIV prevention programme. By supporting the development of strong CBOs, Pehchan will address some of the capacity gaps that have often prevented CBOs from receiving government funding for much-needed HIV programming. Named Pehchan which in Hindi means ‘identity’, ‘recognition’ or ‘acknowledgement,’ this programme is implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance in consortium with Humsafar Trust, PNRO,  SAATHIISangama, and SIAAP and will reach 453,750 MSM, transgenders and hijras by 2015. It is the Global Fund’s largest single-country grant to date focused on the HIV response for vulnerable sexual minorities.

By the Community, for the Community: India’s Own Curriculum for Vulnerable Sexual Minorities

mods2Pehchan (which in Hindi means ‘identity’ or ‘recognition’) is one of the largest programme of its kind not just in India but in the world catering to the health and development needs of men who have sex with men, male-to-female transgender and hijra (MTH) populations. The five-year programme, which began in 2010 with support from the Global Fund is implemented in 17 states by India HIV/AIDS Alliance through six regional partners – Humsafar Trust, Pehchan North Region Office, SAATHII, Sangama, SIAAP and Alliance India Andhra Pradesh. The six regional partners together support 200 community-based organizations (CBOs) of MTH people. These CBOs are at the frontline of programme implementation at the district-level.

One of the biggest programmatic exercises in the first phase of Pehchan (2010-12) was the development of a comprehensive package of thematic training modules for the CBO staff. The themes ranged from Pehchan-specific management issues to leadership and organizational development; basics of STI and HIV prevention, care, support and treatment to mental health concerns; identity-gender-sexuality to family support and issues of MTH individuals with female partners; legal and human rights to trauma and violence; positive living to life skills education. It is unlikely that such a diverse set of training modules  – 16 in all – have ever before been prepared for any marginalized community in the context of national programmes focused on HIV and associated issues of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights.

The scale of development of Pehchan Training Curriculum: MSM, Transgender & Hijra Community Systems Strengthening was not only in keeping with the scale of Pehchan itself, but also in terms of the objectives of the programme. ‘Community System Strengthening’ – catchwords for the programme – is envisaged in two ambitious ways –  formation and strengthening of 200 MTH CBOs across 17 states of India; and provision of a comprehensive basket of SRH and HIV services to 453,750 MTH through these CBOs. Pehchan not only seeks to complement the National AIDS Control Programme but has also put in place a precedent for future health and development programmes for MTH or even larger LGBT populations.

The module development exercise went through three broad phases. In the first phase, experts were involved in a civil society consultation to glean inputs for each of the modules. This resulted in the development of information rich pre-modules. In the second phase, the module contents were embedded with adult-learning focused training techniques and activities through a workshop involving the master trainers who were supposed to deliver the training to CBO staff. The workshop also provided the master trainers a rehearsal on the training skills and approaches they needed to adopt for a target audience that would largely consist of first-time learners.

The modules were further streamlined in the third phase to match the programmatic priorities as well as trainee profiles and learning abilities. The third phase exercise was the most challenging as it required a team of experts and master trainers to pare down the content to make it precise, relevant, visually compelling and feasible for conveying message in a limited period of time. This phase also led to the development of the modules in manual form, which provided clear instructions to the trainers on the “how-to” of administering each module.

At a personal level I enjoyed my involvement in all stages of the module development exercise, but more so during the third phase when I led the final editing of some of the modules. The completion of work on each module provided a moment of satisfaction after weeks and months of intensive writing and re-writing. Here I must acknowledge the work done by all co-developers, topic experts, master trainers and colleagues from all partner agencies to make the modules a reality.

Of course, the exercise was far from perfect. The deployment of the training modules in the first phase of the project provided hands-on learning on the effectiveness of the modules. In the second phase of Pehchan, when cadre-based trainings have replaced theme-based trainings, the use of job aids based on the modules will provide further feedback on how the modules could be improved. However, even in their present form – as at the time of the launch – the modules are a rich repository of information and knowledge available for anyone and everyone – in India and around the world – interested in applying them in their work, or better adapting, translating, replicating and improving them!

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The author of this blog, Pawan Dhall, is a gay rights activist in India and was instrumental in drafting of the Pehchan Training Curriculum: MSM, Transgender & Hijra Community Systems Strengthening. He has been involved in queer community mobilization and development in eastern India since the early 1990s and also works with SAATHII, a non-profit that builds the capacities of individuals and agencies in the areas of sexual and reproductive health and HIV. His newest venture is Varta, which promotes dialogue on gender and sexuality as issues intimate and integral to human development in India through newspapers and other publications.

With support from the Global FundPehchan builds the capacity of 200 community-based organisations (CBOs) for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgenders and hijras in 17 states in India to be more effective partners in the government’s HIV prevention programme. By supporting the development of strong CBOs, Pehchan will address some of the capacity gaps that have often prevented CBOs from receiving government funding for much-needed HIV programming. Named Pehchan which in Hindi means ‘identity’, ‘recognition’ or ‘acknowledgement,’ this programme is implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance in consortium with Humsafar Trust,  PNRO,  SAATHIISangama, and SIAAP and will reach 453,750 MSM, transgenders and hijras by 2015. It is the Global Fund’s largest single-country grant to date focused on the HIV response for vulnerable sexual minorities.

Wrapping Up ICAAP11 (November 22, 2013, Bangkok, Thailand)

Today concludes the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP 11) in Bangkok, Thailand. Alliance India is wrapping up our participation in the meeting with two sessions focused on the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of people living with HIV (PLHIV) and a closing press conference on building the capacity of MSM and transgender organisations to partner with government to improve HIV prevention. Don’t miss this last opportunity: please join us!

Skills Building Workshop:

  • Beyond My Infection: A workshop to build capacities of PLHIV and Key Populations as advocates on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)

        Friday, November 22, 10:00am-1:00pm, Hall O, QSNCC

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Poster Discussion:

  • Cervical Cancer Awareness in Women Living with HIV: Findings from the Koshish Baseline in India

        Friday, November 22, 12:45-1:45pm, Plaza, QSNCC

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Press Conference:

  • Building capacity of MSM & TG CBOs to partner with Government HIV prevention interventions in India

        Friday, November 22, 2-3pm, Press Conference Room, QSNCC

Please download our roadmap of sessions at ICAAP that include Alliance India team members or discussions of our work. It includes a full list of our 31 posters describing our responses to a range of key priorities in India’s epidemic. Please also visit our Community Booth (#C3) to learn more about our work.

Five Priorities: Alliance India at ICAAP (November 20, 2013, Bangkok, Thailand)

India HIV/AIDS Alliance puts particular emphasis on five priority populations: men who have sex with men: transgenders & hijras; sex workers; people who inject drugs; and people living with HIV. Today at the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP 11) in Bangkok, Thailand, we have five sessions that showcase some of our work with key populations. If you are attending, please join us.

Skills Building Workshops:

Me and My Partner’ – A Community-Based Skill Building Training on Positive Prevention for Key Populations

Nov. 20, 1:15-4:15pm, Hall P

Workshop1Equal Access/Equal Rights: Empowering Transgender Communities through Advocacy, Mobilization, and Capacity Building under the Pehchan Program

Nov. 20, 4:15-7:15 pm, Hall K

Workshop2Oral Presentations:

  • Reaching the Hard-to-Reach: Engagement & Facilitation as Research Strategies with Sexual Minorities: Nov. 20, 3:45-5:15pm, Hall H
  • Building Capacity of MSM & TG CBOs to Partner with Government HIV Prevention Interventions in India: Nov. 20, 3:45-5:15pm, Hall H

Press Conference:

  • Engagement & Facilitation as Research Strategies with Sexual Minorities: Nov. 20, 2-3pm, Press Conference Room

Please download our roadmap of sessions at ICAAP that include Alliance India team members or discussions of our work. It includes a full list of our 31 posters describing our responses to a range of key priorities in India’s epidemic. Please also visit our Community Booth (#C3) to learn more about our work.