In March, The Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome Prevention and Control Bill Bil was passed by the Indian Parliament. The HIV equality bill in India outlaws discrimination against those directly affected by the disease.

At its most basic level, the law will ensure that Indians suffering from HIV/AIDS are given equal access to medical treatment, housing, education and burial sites. The bill also makes public expressions of hatred and discrimination toward people with HIV punishable by law. Doctors are prohibited from sharing the HIV status of any patient, and patients must always sign consent forms before receiving tests or medications.

Although HIV prevalence in India is relatively low, there are concentrated areas in the southwest and northeast corners of the nation. Even relatively low percentages of infection still translate into large numbers of people, as India is a country consisting of more than one billion people. The World Bank identifies several risk factors in India including low condom use, widespread drug use, migration and the low status of women. The impact of HIV can be devastating, especially for women in rural families. Infection is often stigmatized, and treatment is difficult to find and access.

The LGBT community still suffers from discrimination in India, and nearly half of transgender children are subject to violence before they turn 18. The new HIV equality law in India was widely celebrated by LGBT members, and it is hoped that the legislation will contribute to a decrease in violence and stigma.

J.P. Nadda, the Indian Health Minister, stated that the government “stands committed to free treatment for HIV patients and that this is what drove the passing of the HIV equality bill in India. Nadda also stated that the bill will establish guidelines for reporting discrimination and create a platform for the protection of patient rights.

Nadda also promised that the government will move forward in researching strategies for counseling, testing and prevention in high-risk areas in India.

Steve Kraus, the Director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific, said that the bill was “an important step forward for people living with and affected by HIV in India and around the world.”

The bill is the first national law pertaining to HIV/AIDS in South Asia, and many are hoping that the law will set precedent for other nations to follow suit. The new HIV equality law in India will hopefully protect the marginalized community in the country.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Dalit Women Fight Discrimination—Will the Parliament Help?On January 31, the March for the Eradication of Manual Scavenging ended in New Delhi. Starting in November, approximately 1,000 Dalit women began marching as a form of a peaceful protest against manual scavenging.

Manual scavenging refers to the process of physically removing human excrement from the dry latrines and sewers. Dalit women have traditionally been manual scavengers as it is understood to align with their lower status as members of the Dalit caste, also known as ‘untouchables,’ and as women.

The march began in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, on November 30 and continued for 63 days, crossing 200 districts and 18 states. The marchers spoke to manual scavengers in the areas they passed through and liberated around 3,000 people.

Kala bai Lavre, a Sajapur resident who had participated in the Malia Mukti Yatra of 2009, fully supported the start of the march in November 2012. The Malia Mukti Yatra in 2009 similarly fought for the freedom of Dalit women from manual scavenging and freed more than 500 women in 34 districts.

Lavre said, “Post marriage when my family told me I had to do this job, I used to cry for days and fell ill several times. But then I reconciled to the situation and did this work for 20 years. Only when my children started to go to school and other children discriminated against them, did I realize that we had to stop doing this work for the sake of our dignity.”

Several legislations in the Constitution have outlawed manual scavenging, but the practice has continued to exist throughout India. The 1993 Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrine Act has been re-written various times. Yet, it has never been effectively implemented and the middle class or lawmakers have remained unaffected.

A new bill called The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Bill was submitted to the Indian Parliament by the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment. This currently pending bill may finally eradicate manual scavenging.

The bill requires the district magistrate to survey his jurisdiction and guarantee that no person is working as a manual scavenger and that former manual scavengers have been rehabilitated, or are in the process of being rehabilitated. Municipalities, cantonment boards and railway authorities are also obligated to build the appropriate number of sanitary public latrines within three years of the bill being passed and enacted. Finally, anyone who employs a manual scavenger or who builds an insanitary latrine will be imprisoned for up to a year and/or fined up to Rs 50,000 ($937.74).

The bill reinforces the already instated prohibition of untouchability and bonded labor by clearly defining and isolating manual scavenging as a practice that discriminates against, and reinforces the concept of untouchability.

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay agrees that manual scavenging should be banned. “This is the only way these grossly exploited people will be able to successfully reintegrate into a healthier and much more dignified work environment, and finally have a real opportunity to improve the quality of their own lives and those of their children and subsequent generations,” said Ms. Pillay.

– Kasey Beduhn

Source: UN News Centre,, The Hindu
Photo: The Hindu