Although the Parliament passed the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill 2017 prohibiting all forms of discrimination against HIV-positive people, it was Dominic D’Souza, a carrier of the virus and the country’s first AIDS activist, who started the fight for equal rights for those infected. D’Souza, a resident of Goa, succumbed to AIDS on May 14, 1992.
“A lot of progress has been made in the past 25 years. The legislation is a major step in the right direction, as it prevents disclosure of people’s HIV status without their consent,” said advocate Anand Grover from Lawyer’s Collective, a group that helped D’Souza fight his case against Goa government for his forceful quarantine for more than two months.
Grover was addressing an event organised by Gay Bombay to commemorate D’Souza’s 25th death anniversary. The group paid tribute by showcasing a short film on Positive People, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) D’Souza had founded two before he died at Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital. The film traces the NGO’s work with HIV-positive sex workers and orphans in Goa.
Around 30 men who attended the screening said there was a need to initiate dialogue about HIV and homosexuality in India. Dominic’s story reiterates the need to abolish stigma surrounding HIV and those infected by it, said an attendee.
“Depiction of homosexuality in mainstream media will make the society receptive to the gay community. Movies like ‘My brother…Nikhil’ help closeted gay men become comfortable in their own skin,” said another attendee.
Charles Arthur William, a Gay Bombay member added that homosexuality needs to be normalised and must get visibility in the society.
Grover added, “Under the Goa Public Health (Amendment) Act 1986, the state was authorised to test any person for HIV and isolate them if tested positive.”
He said D’Souza’s case was instrumental in fighting the law which held homosexuality as a punishable offence under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
Dominic D’Souza, country’s first HIV and AIDS activist, was a frequent blood donor and a worker at the World Wildlife Fund. A mandatory blood test in 1989, under the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Health Act, 1985, revealed he had contracted HIV. This made him Goa’s patient zero for the virus. D’Souza was forcibly quarantined, during which he was kept in a a former tuberculosis sanatorium ward for 64 days. He legally fought against his quarantine and started Positive People in 1992 with his friend Isabel de Santa Maria Vas. D’Souza died at Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai on May 14, 1992, two weeks after registering his organisation.