The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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An overworked judiciary should not have to worry about condoms. But public interest litigations often compel courts to excesses of judicial activism. A two-judge bench of the Delhi high court has had to order the Centre, the Delhi government and the state AIDS control society to resume the supply of free condoms to sex workers in the city. This was in response to a PIL filed by the Bharatiya Patita Udhhar Sabha. What the Sabha was trying to bring to the court’s notice is in itself bizarre, but symptomatic. It shows how the Indian bureaucracy could actually be a dangerous thing. First, the Delhi AIDS control society was expecting the city’s sex workers to make do with just 10 boxes of condoms for about six months, when it had been instructed to provide about 30 boxes per month. The reason why the society discontinued even this curtailed supply altogether is even more revealing. The sex workers had not been providing “utilization certificates” for the free condoms, and hence they have disqualified themselves from the society’s bounty. The mind boggles trying to imagine how sex workers could document their condom use, and then convey this information to the AIDS control society.

Perhaps the government is too busy not only with the habitual red-tape, but also with totting up the right statistics on India’s HIV/AIDS scenario to actually bother about such embarrassing nitty-gritty as condoms. The complainant in this particular PIL has also pointed out to the court how inadequate the awareness programmes conducted by the AIDS control society have been. This is a question of sexual health and of human rights. Sex workers must be adequately empowered to be in a position to demand safe-sex measures from their clients. Moreover, when it comes to HIV/AIDS, there is an active and growing interface between “high-risk groups” (such as sex workers, truck-drivers and migrant labourers) and respectable urban society. Husbands are infecting wives, and parents infecting children more and more in middle India. Condom use is absolutely crucial in the prevention of HIV/AIDS. And it is not the business of the courts to enforce this.

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