India: Anjali Gopalan

Anjali works with the most marginalized groups of society-women and children, and gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual communities.

— Anjali Gopalan

Anjali Gopalan's 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.

Anjali Gopalan (born 1957) lived and worked in New York for about a decade before returning to India to work on HIV/AIDS and issues of marginalization. In 1995, she established the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, an HIV/AIDS service organization working on prevention and care. Anjali believes that raising consciousness on these issues facilitates empowered decision-making. When the Naz Foundation began, it confronted a wall of stubborn resistance to the simple acknowledgment that HIV was a problem. But with the sustained lobbying of groups working on education, health and women's empowerment, Anjali and the Naz Foundation persuaded them to incorporate HIV issues into their ongoing programs. Anjali has been working with HIV+ and affected persons for nearly two decades. Disturbingly often, this involves confronting hostile structures and challenging regressive and oppressive laws and norms. Her work with the MSM (men who have sex with men) community, for instance, is hobbled by an archaic law established in 1860 (section 377 of the Indian penal code) that criminalizes sex between men. She has also had to deal with intimidation and personal imperilment, including an instance where the brother of a gay man lodged a police case against her and threatened to kill her. After years of unrelenting 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-instead of 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. "This work has to be a lifelong commitment," says Anjali.

Naz Foundation (India) Trust