Voices Against Homophobic remarks by the Health Minister of India

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This is a petition on behalf of the Indian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community that finds itself hurt and anguished by by the remarks of an honorable minister in your cabinet.

Mr. Gulam Nabi Azad, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare has been quoted as saying The disease of MSM is unnatural and not good for India. We are not able to identify where it is happening as it less reported also,. He made these remarks at the national convention of zila parishad chairpersons and mayors on HIV/AIDS.

We, as a community take strong exception to these statements primarily for the following reasons:

* As a Health Minister, Mr. Azad should be aware of the fact that the World Health Organization, which happens to be the most authoritative body in identifying diseases does not list homosexuality as a disease anymore. The World Health Organization's ICD-9 (1977) listed homosexuality as a mental illness; it was removed from the ICD-10, endorsed by the Forty-third World Health Assembly on May 17, 1990. Our community would like to know the basis of the minister's statement.

* No reputable scientific body across the world terms same-sex behavior/orientation as "unnatural" as claimed by the minister. In fact, modern research seems to be pointing to the contrary. Is the country's Health Minister not keeping himself up to date with latest developments in his field?

* The minister also said that homosexuality is not good for India. This comes in the face of a July 2009 judgement from the Delhi High Court decriminalizing homosexuality because it saw nothing harmful that would happen to the country in doing so.The community would like to know if the minister's or the Government's opinion on this matter stand in contrast to that taken by the Delhi High Court?

* What makes the remarks particularly disturbing is the fact that they do not seem to have been spoken in a personal capacity. The remarks were made at a public event organized by the Government of India in the presence of other senior ministers and politicians, including Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.

* The minister's statements go against the stand taken by the Government's own National AIDS Control Authority, which has already made its stand clear on the ill effects of censuring homosexuality. Are the Health Minister and the NACO not on the same page?

The Delhi High Court, in its historic judgement had upheld the principles of equality and freedom as enshrined in our Constitution and said,

"If there is one constitutional tenet that can be said to be underlying theme of the Indian Constitution, it is that of 'inclusiveness'. This Court believes that Indian Constitution reflects this value deeply ingrained in Indian society, nurtured over several generations. The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone. Those perceived by the majority as deviants' or 'different' are not on that score excluded or ostracised.

Where society can display inclusiveness and understanding, such persons can be assured of a life of dignity and non-discrimination. This was the 'spirit behind the Resolution' of which Nehru spoke so passionately. In our view, Indian Constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who the LGBTs are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual."

We believe that the observations of the Delhi High Court, and not the minister's remarks reflect the true spirit of the Indian Constitution.

Through this petition, the Indian LGBT community urges you to:

* Ask Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad for a satisfactory explanation on his statement as quoted earlier, and whether he was somehow misquoted by the media. If he had indeed made those very comments with the intentions that they display, we urge you to relocate Mr. Azad from the Health Ministry with immediate effect, since an individual with views that go against modern scientific thought and the spirit of the Constitution does not deserve to hold the Health Ministry anymore. Also, he should be asked to apologize for his offensive remarks.

* Make sure that Government ministers and officials refrain from making statements that hurt the dignity and sentiments of the Indian LGBT community.

The Indian LGBT community is a diverse group of law-abiding, talented, hard working and patriotic citizens of India and we wish to be integrated into the mainstream of society. For that we need the continued support of liberal and freedom loving individuals, organisations and governments.

Hoping that this letter will see the beginning of better times for our community.

Thanks and regards,
Udayan Dhar
Convenor, Mingle
(www.Mingle.org.in)