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Humsafar: Fighting for the rights of LGTBQ in India

Story: THE | GOAN | 11th February 2018, 05:31 Hrs

Be it in India or outside India, wherever one goes, society has been found to be biased towards those persons who are not heterosexuals.Some countries boycott them, others just kill. Are they not humans? As humans do they not have right to live and live with dignity? These are the questions posed by Ashok Row Kavi, LGBT rights activist and journalist who founded Humsafar Trust at a time when there was no talk and no national level movement for LGBTQ human rights. It is now one of the leading organisations covering the spectrum of sexual minorities in India.   

“I am against marriage, but I have found out that those who do not have families are not respected in the society. They are treated as if they don’t exist. We are all humans and to err is human. Don’t all of us have the right to decide about our lives or make mistakes in our lives?” asks Ashok, who is in Goa to participate in Difficult Dialogues at International Centre Goa.   

Speaking on the legitimate right of those who call themselves different, Ashok who has been vocal about these issues since 1990s recalls, “In 1994, the Humsafar Trust after being registered as a male sexual health agency organised India’s first conference of gay men on ‘Emerging Gay Identities in South Asia’ with nearly 70 persons attended this conference at the SNDT Women’s University campus in the same year in December.”   

Humsafar is convener member of Integrated Network for Sexual Minorities (INFOSEM), the national level network of sexual minorities in India since 2003 and has nurtured various groups - Yaariyan (Friendships) a youth LGTBQ group, Umang (Joy) for lesbian, bisexual women and female-to-male-trans-persons (LBT) persons, Kinnar Asmita that represents transgender (TG) and Hijra community and Sanjeevani for (men-having sex with men) MSM and TG living with HIV. It has set up CONNECT, a national online resource centre that will connect LGBTQ communities worldwide.   

The three targeted intervention projects that Humsafar runs aim at promoting safer sex practices among MSM and TG groups and improving access to government health care facilities. “A total of 7500 MSM and TG clients have been reached out through these projects,” informs Ashok.   

Project Aarambh, the first HIV intervention project undertaken by the organisation in 1999, covered 1500 MSMs through outreach sites and has a drop-in-centre and clinic in Mumbai that provides free STI check-ups and HIV testing. This project also reaches out to 1000 TG/Hijra individuals across Mumbai. Project Dostana covers a population of more than 2500 MSM individuals. Project Yaraana covers 2500 MSM individuals.   

He briefs, that their advocacy unit works at two levels - “Firstly, we advocate with direct influences such as police, doctors, counsellors and health providers, lawyers, pharmacists, educational institutions, job providers etc and secondly, we work with indirect influences like municipal officials, political parties, policy makers, press and media. To raise visibility around gay issues, we also bring out a newsletter, Bombay Dost.” By ‘visibilising’ the issues, Humsafar has emerged out of the darkness and silence. Technical support is also offered towards organisational development of other MSM and TG organisations. “We have nurtured capacity building organisations in Mumbai, Goa, Gujarat and Nagpur, informally,” adds Ashok.   

Humsafar has also studied and linked the clinical data to behavioural data to inform more about the progression of the HIV/AIDS epidemic among MSM. It is the first community based organization that set up its own Institutional Review Board in 2006 with National Institute of Health (NIH) with Federal Wide Assurance (FWA) certification in place.   

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