Magazine article New Internationalist

Aliens in Lucknow: AIDS Education Workers in India's Gay Community Are Being Targetted by Police. Saleem Kidwai Describes the Bust of One Leading Agency

Magazine article New Internationalist

Aliens in Lucknow: AIDS Education Workers in India's Gay Community Are Being Targetted by Police. Saleem Kidwai Describes the Bust of One Leading Agency

Article excerpt

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The threat of HIV infection has changed the practice of sex around the world and the way in which sexuality is understood - despite the barriers put up by religion, culture and tradition.

Last year, police in the Indian city of Lucknow stumbled on a male sex-worker and his client arguing about money on a deserted road. The next evening the police raided a dingy park near the railway station where cruising homosexuals and male sex-workers mingle with the homeless street people and bleary-eyed commuters. They arrested five people including two alleged pimps and an 'outreach worker' from a local non-governmental group (NGO).

The outreach worker led them to the offices of Naz Foundation International (NFI), an NGO founded by British Asians, which provides support to community-based projects on male sexual health and HIV/AIDS prevention. In recent years NFI has emerged as a major NGO working on AIDS and men in India, active in more than a dozen cities.

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The regional director of NFI in Lucknow is Arif Jafar, a veteran activist who established one of the country's first gay groups, Friends India. Two days after the arrests, Jafar and three activists from NFI and another group, Bharosa, were arrested under anti-sodomy and anti-obscenity laws. The charge: 'promoting homosexuality'.

In supporting the charges, police produced the replica of the penis used to demonstrate the proper use of condoms and claimed it was a sex toy. They also claimed an air-conditioned suite at the Naz Foundation offices (meant for its UK-based director) was evidence of a sex club.

Jafar and his colleagues were jailed for 47 days and denied bail-the magistrate called them 'a curse on society'.

Most local journalists parroted the view that homosexuality was 'alien' to Indian culture. The Times of India reported a police bust of a prostitution ring and sex club operating 'under the garb of imparting HIV and AIDS awareness programmes...'

The initial response from other NGOs to the NFI bust was cautious. Gay groups in Bangalore, Bombay and Calcutta protested. But local NGOs were reluctant to jump into the fray. It was left to activists from Delhi to help organize the first public protest in Lucknow.

It appears that many Lucknow gay activists distrust NFI. …

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