Anjali Gopalan – India

Linked with the Naz Foundation (India) Trust.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Anjali works with the most marginalized groups of society-women and children, and gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual communities. Her work on HIV/AIDS issues over the past two decades has changed the way India’s policymakers address these issues. When the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, which Anjali established in 1995, first began work, there was remarkable resistance to even acknowledging that HIV was a problem. However, through the sustained lobbying of groups working on education, health and women’s empowerment, Anjali has not only educated and trained them to incorporate HIV issues in ongoing programs, but also challenged the laws and norms that marginalize women and sexual minorities.

She says: “This work has to be a lifelong commitment”.

.Anjali Gopalan - India two.jpg.

Anjali Gopalan – India

She works for the Naz Foundation (India) Trust.

Anjali Gopalan was born in 1957 in Chennai. Her father was an officer in the Indian Air Force and her mother a homemaker. She studied in both India and the US, and her degree in political science, a postgraduate diploma in journalism, and a Masters in international development have helped her immeasurably in her radical work.

Anjali lived and worked in New York for nearly a decade before she returned to India to continue her work on HIV/AIDS and marginalization issues. She had begun work on HIV/AIDS and related issues in New York with undocumented migrant labor, schoolchildren, and South Asian communities.

Moving to India with this experience in hand, in 1995 she established the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, an HIV/AIDS service organization that concentrates on prevention and care. The foundation works on issues of sexuality, rights, and training, and runs an orphanage-and-home for children and women living with HIV.

Anjali has been working with HIV+ and affected persons now for nearly two decades. She uses community-building and empowerment, as well as advocacy to influence policy formulation to work towards a just and equitable environment. Her work, with society’s most marginalized groups – women, children and GLTB (gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual) communities, has helped develop interventions and the redress of issues that were being ignored.

Her work on HIV/AIDS has drawn attention to social injustice in the context of gender, sexual orientation, poverty, the stigmatization of the marginalized and discrimination. Her core belief is that raising consciousness on all these issues facilitates empowered decision-making. When the Naz Foundation first began its work, there was widespread resistance to even acknowledging that HIV was a problem.

With the sustained lobbying of groups working on education, health and women’s empowerment, however, Anjali and the Naz Foundation trained them to incorporate HIV issues into their ongoing programs: they felt it was key that issues of sexuality, ethics, and care become a part of interventions if HIV were to be tackled in any meaningful manner.

Very often, advocacy continues to involve confronting, and negotiating within, hostile structures, and challenging regressive and oppressive laws and norms. Anjali’s work with the MSM (men who have sex with men) community, for instance, is obstructed by an archaic law established as long back as 1860 (Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code), which criminalizes sex between men.

Radical change is usually incremental: when Anjali started her work in India, issues of HIV/AIDS, sexuality, and marginalization were seen as socially ancillary. And threats to her personal safety were frequent enough. The brother of a gay man, for instance, lodged a police case against her and threatened to kill her. Fortunately, her family environment has been extremely supportive, helping her resolve and her efforts continue.

After years of relentless advocacy and action, both government and society have begun to acknowledge the importance of the work that Anjali has initiated: issues such as access to care and treatment of HIV+ persons – contrasted to prevention messages alone – are finally being addressed.

In fact, the Supreme Court recently issued notice to the government on a special leave petition filed by the Naz Foundation seeking to legalize homosexuality and to strike down a statute that makes “unnatural sex” a criminal offence. Given the prevailing milieu, it is a victory of stunning magnitude.

Anjali has faced immense challenges with strength of character, indomitability, and grace. Hers is a sensitive, mature approach to human suffering that has helped many marginalized groups create a reference area and a space for themselves in the mainstream. (1000peacewomen).

Community preparedness for AIDS vaccine trials, India, February 22, 2007.

She says also: “I think we need to advocate in multiple areas for children who are HIV positive to be accepted. So there are issues of stigma and discrimination that we need to focus on. When the children are sent to school, for instance we need to keep their status confidential. Also, as far as treatment, care and support is concerned, the mechanisms are not very clearly defined for children. For instance, there are no clear guidelines on CD4 counts for ARVs. The care systems for children need to be multi-faceted. It is equally important to be able to care for children within the home environment. Similarly, it’s important to understand what foster care would involve in a resource-impoverished country like India. Institutional care at present is also not very geared up to meet the challenges. We should not think of large institutions but care in smaller settings of 15 children, where one can focus on helping them live with dignity and self respect and contribute to the society positively” … (full interview text).

Giving the will to live.

She writes: I think it would be interesting to talk a little bit about the structural adjustments that need to happen to deal with issues for women living with HIV and also for children. I’d like to talk about kids because they always get left out of the equation. But I think we have some very basic problems. And where do we start? Right from the fact that there are issues around nevirapine being given to women during delivery. Women not having access to safe delivery. There’s no sex education in schools. The fact is that girls are dropping out of schools. It’s not just HIV. It’s a larger issue. What about younger and younger women who are married off and come in positive and that’s when the infection gets caught? Anandi’s story is not uncommon. Very often the number of women who end up-and therefore we need to look at legal issues-the number of women who get thrown out of their homes after they’ve taken care of husbands who have died and then the family throws them out. So I think if we could kind of start looking at where these structural changes need to happen, and then if we could talk a little bit about the fact that…we don’t have laws to protect women in these kinds of situations. Maybe Anandi can talk a little bit about it … (full article).

Hospitals or HIV breeding ground?

And she says: “We also do training across the country. We train intermediary organizations who implement HIV related measures and programmes. We do a lot of work with young people in schools and colleges and ofcourse our focus areas are there, including the care home which is a 20 bedded facility which is for people who are sick and who cannot look after themselves. Then we also work with families to integrate these people into them. Besides we take people from all over the country and train them here or even the children who are orphans. When the next of the kin are unable to look after them we bring them here to our care-home. In some cases we have been able to intervene and some of the families have taken the children in but when the children have absolutely no one to turn to we take them in” … (full interview text).

Nurturing With Care.

Anjali Gopalan is the Founder and Executive Director of The Naz Foundation (India) Trust, an NGO dedicated to the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in India. Ms. Gopalan worked as a journalist and social worker before founding the Foundation in 1994. She first realized the devastating potential of HIV/AIDS while working as a social worker for several years with community-based organizations in New York City, providing direct services for HIV/AIDS and substance abuse issues. Upon returning to her native India in the early 1990s, Ms. Gopalan saw a tremendous gap in HIV/AIDS prevention and care services. Drawing upon her work with community groups in the United States, she founded the Naz Foundation Trust, which has a particular focus on vulnerable groups within in the general population. Naz offers a range of prevention and care programs that cater to the needs of these underserved populations. Since founding Naz, Ms. Gopalan has become a social activist, speaking at international fora and giving numerous media interviews challenging both the international and Indian community for a more coordinated and humane response to the epidemic. At the heart of her work is her concern for people living with HIV/AIDS, and she manages a care home for both women and children infected with the virus in New Delhi. In 2005, Ms. Gopalan was nominated and short-listed for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work (on Global Health.org).

Her Biography on NAZ India.

links:

India Facts on Prostitution;

HIV/AIDS Vaccine Testimonies from Africa and India Reported to US Congressional Staff;

India (and South Asia) Sexuality Minorities Rights Page – last updated on March 25, 2007);

Revise Section 377: answer to ‘Section 377 and the Dignity of Indian Homosexuals’;

The Amerian India Foundation;

Indian women face peril of HIV, Sept. 21, 2005;

Sabrang;

In Her Own Words: Violations of Women’s Human Rights and HIV.

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