Discriminating against people with HIV to be a crime in India
Church personnel also laud bill that states people cannot be compelled to disclose their HIV status
The Indian government has cleared a plan to amend a law that will make discriminating against people living with HIV/AIDS a punishable offence.
A major change will include jail time as a punitive measure, "which will force people to think positively about" people living with the infection, said Father Mathew Perumpil, secretary of the Catholic bishops' office of health care.
Changes to the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill 2014 will make it a crime to discriminate against HIV-positive people such as terminating their jobs or refusing health care nor should they face prejudice if they run for public office.
"No person shall be compelled to disclose his/her HIV status," the draft said and it also stipulated that denying health insurance to such people is a violation of their rights.
Health minister J. P. Nadda told media that there will be a state-appointed ombudsmen for settling grievances and people who feel victimized could take their complaint to court.
Father Perumpil said that the proposal still has to be passed in the parliament to become law. "But when that process is over it surely will have a positive impact" on the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Sex is taboo in traditional Indian society, which associates HIV/AIDS with lasciviousness. People with HIV/AIDS are also ostracized because people fear contracting the virus through close contact, even though such beliefs are erroneous.
Government advertisements have campaigned against the sacking of employees with HIV and educational institutions refusing to admit students with the infection.
But despite government campaigns and schemes, which include making anti-retroviral therapy freely available in government hospitals, media still report on HIV-positive people being denied jobs, rental properties and children being expelled from schools.
"The church in India has been in the forefront of the fight for their rights," Father Perumpil said, adding that the church had established more than 100 centres to help people living with the infection since India’s first HIV case was reported in 1986.
Father Mathew Abraham, director of the Catholic Health Association of India said the proposed changes had been "pending with the government for the last 10 years." He expressed the hoped that it will pass without delay.
Women rights activist Jyotsna Chatterjee, director of the Protestant Joint Women’s Program believed the law would help improve the dignity of people living with HIV/AIDS. "They will get more respect to live meaningful lives, and the general public will be forced treat them with equality," she said.
"The government has to sensitize the people about the fact that it is not a disease spread through touching," she said.
India has about 2.1 million HIV-positive people but the number newly diagnosed people has been steadily decreasing over the years, according to government records.
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