M A I N   N E W S

Foot-in-mouth Azad says he didn’t mean a thing
UNAIDS Chief rebuts Health Minister’s claims; gays want him sacked
Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, July 5
However many times you played the video clip showing Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad calling sexual involvement of men with men “unnatural” and a “disease”, he would insist that he didn’t say so, was misquoted by the Press and words were put into his mouth.

That’s exactly what happened today evening when the minister, in a hurriedly convened press meet (which happened after he had met the PM and UPA chief Sonia Gandhi over the Telangana crisis), claimed complete innocence, even though his remarks attracted a sharp and unusual rebuttal from visiting UNAIDS chief, Michel Sidibe, who had heard the minister speak at the National HIV Convention of Parliamentarians yesterday.

“Consistent with the WHO’s disease classification, UNAIDS does not regard homosexuality as a disease and there’s no place for stigma and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” Sidibe rushed to clarify, rejecting prejudice and misconceptions against men having sex with men (MSMs) and transgender people, as reflected in Azad’s statement.

To the Health Minister’s embarrassment, Sidibe, in his concluding remarks today, didn’t mention him even once and instead administered to him some diplomatic counsel: “Mahatma Gandhi had said no culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive. India’s rich tradition of inclusivity and social justice must include MSMs and transgender people.”

But Sidibe’s counterpoints and the clamour among members of the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals) community impacted Azad little, as he claimed he never even said what was being attributed to him and he also did not intend to “hurt anyone’s sentiments”. The minister’s first defence was: Things were put into my mouth and he never used the words “gay” or “homosexuals” and, in fact, meant HIV (not MSM) was a disease that came from abroad.

“As kids, we heard HIV was a disease that existed abroad. There is nothing wrong in saying this,” Azad clarified, refusing to answer what he understood by gays or homosexuals. Confronted on his description of MSM relationships being “unnatural” (something the Delhi High Court has rejected), Azad claimed different people could have different opinions. “Some want a law on this issue; some don’t,” he said, unmindful of the fact that the high court’s rejection of criminalisation of consensual homosexual relationships (Section 377 of the IPC) is law of the land and his own ministry had supported this stand before the court.

For gays, Azad’s defence meant nothing. Online lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals forum were flooded with demands of Azad’s dismissal today and threats of agitations. “Get to the streets and demand the dismissal of homophobic health minister for his incompetence,” Elavarthi Manohar, acclaimed gay rights activist from Bangalore and vice-chairperson, India Country Coordination Mechanism for the Global AIDS Fund, declared online on the LGBT India forum today.

Top Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves, who heads the Human Rights Law Network, termed Azad’s remarks foolish and said, “In any other country, such a minister would have been sacked for exhibiting such disregard.”

To Muthukumar, a gay from LGBT group Lotus Sangam in Tamil Nadu, Azad’s remarks came as a shock. “My efforts of 12 years to educate, advocate and convince people that I am normal and natural have been cracked by your statement,” he said in an open letter to the minister, who in July, 2009, had offended millions by saying late night viewing of TV would prevent people from producing children. Even today, some felt Azad clarified his take because either the PM or Sonia had asked him to do so.

Moral lessons to fight HIV

Addressing Parliamentarians at the HIV convention on Tuesday, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan, said lessons in morality and ethical values given by elders were important to fight the HIV/AIDS battle.

“HIV is a new phenomena we know how it comes but very little is being done for its prevention. Contraceptives alone will not help. Teaching morality, ethos in schools is essential,” Khan said adding that we are not against permissive society but need to take precautions. “We should feel guilty that because of our negligence HIV virus is spreading,” he said.





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