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Gay Film Festival Begins in Delhi

A ten-day long festival for gays began in the capital on Saturday.

The Nigah Queer Fest will showcase over 20 films on homosexuality directed by many international directors. The films will be followed by panel discussions and a photographic presentation.

The aim of the programme is to give voice to the issue in a country where Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is still in existence. Section 377 criminalizes private consensual sex between adults.

One of the main demands of the campaign for the rights of sexual minorities in India has been the repeal of this section.

In 1994, the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA), a human rights activist group, filed a public interest petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the constitutional validity of Section 377. The petition was filed in the wake of the report of a medical team that visited Tihar Jail in Delhi and reported a high incidence of sodomy in the wards. However, the ABVA became defunct soon afterwards and the petition never came up for hearing.

It was only in 2001 that the legal process was revived, when the Naz Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS)-related issues, approached the Delhi High Court with a request to read down Section 377 as not criminalizing private consensual sex between adults. Both petitions have now been clubbed together, and the hearing is yet to take place.

"Yes this is a sensitive issue, this is the reason we are here to desensitize it by showing it, by writing about it and by singing about it" said Diepiriyesa, an American writer.

"This is basically an issue made out of the thing which is not an issue. It is very natural anybody can be bi-curious It has became an issue because it has been suppressed for a long time. The people were always there, but nobody actually came out to speak on this," claimed Swapanpriya, a visitor to the gay fest.

"I can go ahead and confess that I am bi-curious, the films are amazing, the films have opened my mind," she added.

Officials of UNAIDS say there is no data on the gay population in India as even collecting such information is illegal under Section 377.

"The only estimates available are those of National Aids Control Organization and that, too, of only those gay or bisexual people who constitute the high risk group which means having more than one sexual partner," said UNAIDS country coordinator Denis Broun.

The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), a government body, has cited statistics to show that eight percent of the gay population in India is afflicted with HIV/AIDS compared to one per cent of the general population. NACO has also said that Section 377 pushes the issue of AIDS underground.


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