India has one of the largest populations of HIV positive persons in Asia and the world. While it is generally accepted the world over that there must be a twin strategy for combating HIV/AIDS - prevention and treatment, the Indian government has focused largely on prevention, with far less emphasis placed on treatment. Furthermore, people living with HIV/AIDS are stigmatized and face significant discrimination. In this context, the HIV/AIDS and the Law Initiative at HRLN uses a rights-based approach to support people affected by HIV against all forms of discrimination by defending their fundamental human rights including their right to life, health, privacy, education, employment, housing, and other matters.
What We Do?
The HIV/AIDS and the Law initiative was established to create mechanisms to provide critical legal assistance to HIV affected persons and empower them to combat the stigma and discrimination that they face. We do this by training and empowering stakeholders and community leaders to identify and resolve legal problems, setting up and running HIV legal aid centers, and providing free legal aid to those affected by HIV/AIDS. The Initiative focuses particularly on providing support to vulnerable and marginalized communities such as women, children, transgenders, commercial sex workers, prisoners, men who have sex with men (MSM), and intravenous drug users (IDUs), amongst others.
In order to facilitate easy and increased access to the justice system for positive people, we have established a pan–India network of HIV/AIDS Legal Aid Centres, wherein our lawyers partner with Positive Network Groups to provide legal aid. Thus far, over 25 such centers have been set up in collaboration with positive network, NGOs, SHGs, etc. These centers are in Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Orissa, Kerala, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
A key element in our work is fostering partnerships with Positive Network Groups, and CBOs, NGOs and other vulnerable group at state and district levels creating a bond with their community leaders. The partnerships and networks formed at these levels help more people to access legal aid creating a space for legal counseling, litigation, legal interventions and redressal in all forms.
Issues Of Concern
- Treatment issues
- Education, medical and employment discrimination
- Family Discrimination
- Property Rights
- Gender Discrimination
- Adoption and Guardianship
The initiative’s multi-pronged strategy of litigation and training has created a far-reaching impact by helping people affected by HIV to access legal aid, and by training vulnerable communities across India on a rights-based framework. In a landmark petition in the Supreme Court filed in 2003, we called upon the Government of India to provide free antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to HIV positive persons. Under pressure from this petition and from activist groups, the Government announced free ARV drugs for one lakh people in six high prevalence States: Maharashtra , Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland Manipur, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to begin with. Today in 2010 over 200,000 people in India are on first line treatment. (See: Voluntary Health Association of Punjab (VHAP) Vs. Union of India). Our battle for second line drugs, and accessibility of OI and other treatment related drugs has also succeeded in medicines being available for free without waiting periods, free tests done for CD4 counts, clean treatment centers, availability of PEP kits, travel passes on concession and subsidised food cards, among other things.
Our two day National Judicial Colloquium on HIV/AIDS and the Law in 2007 brought together over 50 judges from the various High Courts and the Supreme Court of India, along with eminent speakers from South Africa as well as the Indian Parliament. Partnered by UNAIDS, the colloquium provided the space for an intense discussion on many legal and social issues surrounding HIV and or AIDS. Leaders from the community, both positive and vulnerable groups spoke about the urgent need for people affected by HIV to find legal help and the role the Indian legal stems play in restoring their right to life and dignity.
A major publication, the first of its kind in India – HIV/AIDS and the Law, volumes I & II produced by our team contains case law on HIV and legal issues. It has served as a ready reference for Judges at all level as well as for lawyers and members of the affected communities to access information on case laws and judgments. The initiative has also published books on the struggle for treatment, the ethics of mandatory HIV testing, and produced a documentary film on HIV and rights titled, “I want to Live”, that has been screened in India and major international festivals in Canada, Germany and the UK.
“I am extremely grateful to the Human Rights Law Network for having prepared two excellent volumes on HIV/AIDS and the Law, a wonderful collection of judgments and pronouncements. We as judges need to use the tools available to us in fighting this epidemic.” – Hon’able Mr. Justice Altamas Kabir, Supreme Court of India
HRLN produces movie on this issue I Want to Live.
Watch I Want to Live