Formed in 1994, the Humsafar Trust (HST) is a community-based organization of self-identified gay men, MSM, transgender, hijras and LBT people based in Mumbai, India.
HST currently manages six projects on HIV prevention, care, support and treatment, reaching out to more than 9,000 MSM and transgender people in the Mumbai metro area.
It is also a sub-recipient under the Multi-Country South Asia (MSA) Global Fund HIV Programme, which is based at the UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub.
The group has strong links with the public health system and strongly embedded ART services in five centres. It also provides legal support, crisis management, mental health and nutrition counselling to its communities.
HST strongly believes in a ‘personal’ approach.
“When we talk about health, it’s not just STIs and HIV, we are talking about people who, whether they identify as gay or whatever, have been stigmatised and discriminated against for what they are, so that’s why we have a mental health programme in place,” says Humsafar Trust Director Vivek Anand.
“Because we feel that as we are a community, we have to be an entry point. When we talk to people, we make them feel comfortable. Every Friday we have workshops. If you have been abused, rejected, subjected to violence, facing discrimination in school, at your work place, we have counsellors, mental health professionals, a lawyer that can talk to you, and a qualified psychologist who is full time.”
Vivek says that on a human level, volunteers and peers of the HIV support group are able to work effectively with communities that are living with HIV.
“We have an Internet outreach programme that we started about two years ago and we’ve connected with about 3,000 people. We bring them in, it’s the same process. The people from the Internet service do not feel the need to go through the public health system so we are connected with about four or five health care providers.
“So when a community person walks in, the health unit provides a bouquet of services, so you are screened at reception, we as ‘what brought you to Humsafar? Did an outreach worker visit you or did your read about us on the Net?’ We are very visible on social media,” says Vivek.
Vivek says that Section 377 of the Indian penal code remains a challenge. The law, which criminalises homosexuality, dates back to British Colonial times. It was re-instated by the Supreme Court in 2013 despite a lower court striking it down in 2009.
However, he says Indian society is changing.
“I always tell people, you know, if you look at Mumbai as a city, the way we communicate is very different than in other parts of the country,” says Vivek. “If you did a survey in Mumbai you’d find a very large percentage of people who give themselves an identity, they’ll say ‘I’m gay’, they’ll say ‘I’m a hijra,’ they will be very open about the legal situation, about their rights. People in the streets talk about gay marriage and adoption and stuff like that. And that is very different than the situation 25 years ago.”
So why was Humsafar formed?
“Because I was growing up gay and in a country where homosexuality is a criminal offence. What would we do? Where would we get support? What if I was to find a lover with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life? There wouldn’t be any marriage for me. For every LGBT person there is a mother and a father, a brother or a sister who is affected so that’s why Humsafar continues to advocate,” says Vivek.
The Humsafar Trust
3rd Floor, Manthan Plaza
Nehru Rd, Vakola
Santacruz (East), Mumbai, 400055
Telephone: +91 22 266 73800
Copyright: APCOM 2014