Ostrich syndrome leads to HIV in jails

KOLKATA, 29 MARCH: When there has been an alarming rise in the number of HIV-positive cases in correctional homes, the jail administration and officials of the state health department are not ready to admit to homosexuality prevalent among inmates and stop the virus from spreading further.
The Union home ministry, in a 2008 circular to state prisons department, had directed it to distribute condoms among inmates, as jails are a high-risk zone for HIV contamination, where homosexuality is a high possibility.
However, the order was never followed up as the directive would have implied an acceptance of the fact that homosexuality is practised in jails.
It may be recalled that the legal battle began over Section 377 of the IPC in 1994, when a medical team in Tihar Jail reported a high incidence of homosexuality, and asked for condoms to be distributed to prevent HIV transmission.
The then Inspector General (IG) of Prisons, Ms Kiran Bedi, did not allow this, saying it would encourage gay behaviour. Human rights group AIDS Bhedbhav Virodh Andolan then filed a PIL in Delhi High Court asking it to stop the discrimination that made it difficult to address HIV/AIDS concerns among homosexual jail inmates.
The joint director of National Aids Control Organisation (Naco), Mr K Syama Prasad, said that condom distribution is not permitted in any of the jails in the country. “Though there is no official data, according to unofficial information HIV rates are on the rise in jails and the inmates are possibly highly at risk,” he said, adding this again cannot be said “officially”.
According to the last available data, out of the 776 inmates in Presidency and Alipore central jails, who were tested for HIV/AIDS, 16 (10 men and six women) were found HIV positive. When condom distribution seemed impossible in jails, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs (MHA) recommended that the old system of shaving be dispensed with and a separate disposable razor be provided to each inmate.
However, this recommendation, too, could not be implemented as providing disposable razor to each prison inmate was not feasible from security point of view. Mr Anis Ray Chaudhuri, director of programme, MANAS Bangla, said: “The Ostrich syndrome our society in general and our politicians especially are suffering from is even more dangerous than HIV itself.”
He said the chance of direct exchange of blood from an infected prisoner to another through sharing of razors is too minimal as HIV is too fragile to live outside living human organism beyond few seconds. Mr Ranvir Kumar, IG of correctional services, said he had no idea why condoms are not distributed in jails.
When asked whether condom distribution implies prevalence of homosexuality in jails, he refused to comment. Both Mr Kumar and Mr Syama Prasad had no idea whether condom distribution would be possible if homosexuality is decriminalised in the country.
The officials of State AIDS Prevention and Control Society refused to divulge anything on the matter.

Soma Basu

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