Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has been in the news for many things that aren’t strictly in the best interest of the country’s health.
But his remarks at an International Conference on Aids in Mexico is salutary. Despite progress on many issues of sexuality in India, one area that has been sadly found wanting is that of gay rights. Till today, any instance of men having sex with men is a criminal act under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Now with the Minister’s pronouncement, we hope that there will be a rethink on this.
Gay rights have been swept under the carpet in India for far too long. This has led to a situation where people with alternative sexual preferences have not even been able to avail of the appropriate information on safe sex.
The fact that the law is against homosexuals has also led to them being victimised by the law enforcement authorities. There are several instances of gays being harassed in public places for no reason other than the suspicion of their sexual preference. India is an active player in the issue of gay rights in several international forums. For all that, it has done precious little to promote or, indeed, safeguard these rights in India.
Mr Ramadoss has taken a bold step in promoting a more equitable forum for gay rights. He cannot be unaware that he will receive some flak for his initiative from various quarters. A major problem across the world is the high incidence of HIV/Aids among same-sex partners. The US has been at the forefront of bringing this issue out of the closet much before any other country. This explains why the seropositivity rate has fallen in that country.
It will be a while before such issues can be discussed in a country where even sex education in schools is considered taboo. But if Mr Ramadoss’s statements at least open the doors to amending this anachronistic law, he would have helped India take the first step towards gay rights and also safe sexual practices in India.