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Put an end to indignity

There's urgent need for a law to end discrimination against HIV/Aids patients. Anand Grover writes.

india Updated: Oct 14, 2012 21:19 IST

Marred by disruptions and adjournments by the Opposition, the monsoon session of Parliament was a complete washout with minimal business being conducted. While the government took decades to table the much-hyped Lokpal Bill in Parliament, one wonders when important legislation like the HIV/Aids Bill, which aims to protect the rights of people living with the disease, will see the light of day.

From being forced out of schools to the denial of jobs to involuntary disclosure of HIV status, there's no end to discrimination that people living with HIV/Aids face. Not just this, their family members are also subjected to hostility, prejudice and stigma. Groups at risk of HIV like sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM) and injecting drug users (IDUs) face rights violations in different spheres of their lives. However, only a few of these cases get reported.

With no specific anti-discrimination law to protect the rights of people living with and affected by HIV/Aids, there is limited legal redressal against rights violations faced by them. Unlike India, which is one of the earliest countries that started the process of drafting the HIV/Aids Bill, many, including 20 African nations, have passed laws on the disease. Earlier this year, the East African Assembly passed the HIV & Aids Prevention and Management Bill, 2012. Among the Asian countries, the Philippines, Kazakhstan and Vietnam have specific HIV/Aids legislations.

Countries like South Africa, Australia, the US and Britain protect the rights of HIV positive people through anti-discrimination laws. The Disability Discrimination Act, 1992, in Australia covers not only HIV positive people but also those who are associated with HIV and those who are believed to have HIV. The Equality Act, 2010, of Britain protects HIV positive people from any kind of discrimination in both the public and private sectors.

In our country, after a series of consultations with all the stakeholders like people living with or at risk of HIV/Aids, doctors, lawyers, women's groups, children's rights groups and government officials, a draft Bill to that effect was finalised by the health ministry in July 2006. But till date it has not been tabled in Parliament. The Bill seeks to protect people living with or at risk of HIV/Aids from discrimination, provides for informed consent for HIV testing, treatment and research, protects the confidentiality of HIV-related information including HIV testing and provides for complete and free HIV treatment for everyone in need of it.

It was first sent to the law ministry in August 2007. However, it took almost three years to clear the Bill and finally sent it back to the health ministry in March 2010. After that, in 2011, once again the health ministry sent the Bill to the law ministry. Even now, the Bill is pending with the law ministry and has not been sent to the Cabinet. For the last six years, people living with HIV/Aids and civil society organisations working in this field have been advocating the passing of this Bill.

Although the estimates of people with HIV/Aids have come down in our country, rights violation continues unabated. It's time the government displays some urgency on the issue and tables the Bill at the earliest so that people with HIV/Aids can lead a life of dignity.

Anand Grover is a senior advocate and director, Lawyers Collective, New Delhi

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Oct 14, 2012 21:17 IST