India: Advocates push for enactment of enabling, supportive omnibus HIV/AIDS Bill

“When we first started talking about the HIV/AIDS Bill, we were talking about how our children needed to be taken care of. Today, those children are adults waiting to be married, and have a different set of problems, but there is no law yet,” Daisy David, a woman living with HIV says. After about three years of preparation in consultation with many groups, the HIV/AIDS Bill took final shape in 2006 and was submitted to the Law Ministry the next year.

The Law Ministry took three years to clear it, and sent it back to the Health Ministry. Since then it has been lying idle or being foot balled between the Health and Law Ministries, activists charged. Meanwhile, the community got tired of waiting for the State to take over and do the rest. So they took to the street again, campaigning for the bill to be tabled in the coming session of the Parliament.

“It is extremely disappointing, the way this Bill has been shuttling between the two Ministries. We demand that the government should table the Bill in this monsoon session,” says Reni Jacob of World Vision. He stresses the importance of bringing into force a law that will protect the rights of persons living with HIV and offer them a forum for redress. The Bill envisaged wholesome coverage of issues relating to persons living with HIV/AIDS addressing issues of stigma and discrimination, care and protection, treatment and ensuring their rights. “We have a lot of problems now, from access to anganwadis, health care, and education, to denial of property rights. We can only keep quiet because there is no law to protect us,” Ms. David says, detailing her own experiences.

The Bill protects people living with, and affected by HIV from discrimination in both private and public sectors, bringing the private sector into the ambit for the first time, Kumaravel of the Tiruvallur Network of Positive People explains. Also, the Bill puts an obligation on the State to provide complete treatment including antiretrovirals, diagnostics, treatment for opportunistic infections, and nutritional supplements to every person living with HIV in the country, adds Noori of the South Indian Network of People with HIV/AIDS.

Surekha N of the Lawyers Collective, which originally drafted the Bill, explained that it has recently been sent to the Law Ministry.