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How many gays?

india Updated: Mar 04, 2012 23:16 IST

Hindustan Times
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The Supreme Court asked the Government of India last week: how many gays does India have? Was this a rhetorical query, along the lines of asking how many roads must a man walk down (before he knows that he's a heterosexual male)? Or was it a more serious question? Coming from the apex court, we assume it's the latter. The court was responding to a petition challenging the 2009 Delhi High Court verdict that decriminalised homosexuality. The opposition is based on the belief that there is a high correlation between homosexuals and HIV-infected. To confirm or deny this, the court requires data on the number of homosexuals and HIV-infected among them.


The percentage of sexually active homosexuals with HIV is much higher than with their heterosexual counterparts. Figures point to 2.39 million HIV-infected people in India. According to the National Aids Control Organisation (Naco), there are 2.35 million homosexuals and transgenders in the country, of which 7.3% are HIV-positive. This, in percentage terms, is far higher than those infected with HIV in the general population (.31%). Which, of course, doesn't tell you the full story. Because in pure numbers, there are more HIV-positive heterosexuals than HIV-positive homosexuals. One can hardly suggest a law that makes heterosexual intercourse — a prime route for HIV transmission — illegal.

The risk of contracting HIV increases when one engages with regular multiple sexual partners. This isn't a moral statement but a fact based on empirical evidence. Having mutliple sexual partners is not a 'homosexual' trait alone. But because of the social and legal cloisters in which a gay person exists, having multiple partners for many are the only route for leading a sexually active life. So even as the government provides the court with the data, let the court also consider the fact that socially and legally, monogamy is encouraged by the institution of (heterosexual) marriage. Providing gays with the same option won't wipe out the choice of having multiple sexual partners. (It certainly hasn't for heterosexuals.) It will provide an encouraging nudge of ‘settling down' with one partner, that in turn will cut down the risk of becoming HIV-infected. With condom-use, rather than sexual orientation, being the decider of what amounts to safe sex.