A court in the western Indian state of Maharashtra has ordered an HIV-positive woman to be detained in a protection home for two years to prevent her from posing a “danger to society” while she goes through “necessary brainwashing,” according to a local media report.
The court upheld the ruling of a lower magistrate court in spite of the woman’s family’s appeal that she does not need to be placed in a protection house because they can provide her with the financial support and care she requires.
“As the victim is undisputedly suffering from HIV, which can be easily transmitted through sexual intercourse, the setting of the victim at large is likely to pose danger to the society,” the court ruling said. The court maintained that the detainment will “ensure that the victim leads a normal life in future, after getting necessary brainwashing.”
The woman, whose name cannot be disclosed according to a law concerning persons living with HIV, was taken into custody in August under the country’s immoral trafficking prevention law that provides rehabilitation to sex workers in protection homes. Her lawyer told the court that she is not a sex worker but an actress with adequate financial resources, and that her arrest had been a misunderstanding. The court however dismissed this argument, saying the police complaint against the woman stated that she accepted payment of $1329 for sex work.
In the appeal, the woman’s father argued that the lower court ordered her two-year detainment only because she has HIV. He also cited a Bombay High Court ruling which stated that an adult woman cannot be held against her wishes in a protection home.
Activists criticised the ruling, saying it directly contradicts a 2017 law that criminalizes discrimination against people living with HIV. The law defines discrimination as the imposition of any burden, obligation, liability, disability or disadvantage on any person or category of persons, based on one or more HIV-related grounds.
“The two-year detention of the person just because she is a person living with HIV is a violation of human rights,” Firoz Khan, programme manager at HIV rights nonprofit Alliance India, told VICE World News. “By living with HIV, she is not posing any threat to society. This is worth highlighting here, as today there are 1.4 million people living with HIV in India who are constructively contributing to the development of the country.,”
In India, the law views sex workers as victims, and they are taken into custody in protection homes for a period of one to three years. Rescued women may not leave these corrective institutions until a court gives the order. Many aspects of sex work such as the ownership of brothels or solicitation in proximity to public places are criminalized.
Punitive legal stances against sex workers are also pervasive in protection homes, which have a reputation for moral policing, extreme confinement and abysmal living conditions. Legal experts have long questioned the constitutional basis of protection home detainment, saying it violates fundamental human rights.
According to Alliance India sexuality and gender rights officer Thota Maheshwari, people with HIV are vulnerable to further stigmatization and low quality of life in protection homes.
“As protection home staff lack correct or complete information, often HIV positive individuals face discrimination related to their stay, for example, while sharing food or using washroom facilities,” Maheshwari told VICE World News. “Women in sex work with HIV infection face double discrimination from society in general and from their own peer group.”
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