J.V.R. Prasada Rao
Former UN Special Envoy on AIDS, Asia Pacific
APCOM HIV/AIDS Ambassador
It is difficult to absorb that it has already been 10 years since Shivananda Khan left this world! The news, ten years back came like a bolt from the blue for many of his friends, associates and community members.
I met Shiv sometime in March 2001 exactly 22 years back. He came to India to open a branch of Naz Foundation International (NFI) in India in Lucknow, the capital city of the state of Uttar Pradesh. The environment surrounding the MSM community at that time was still hostile and the state government and the local politicians did not like the idea of an MSM office coming up in the state. I had a brief meeting with him in Delhi and promised all my support.
In July 2001, the local director of NFI, Arif Jafar and two other members were arrested by police under various charges of promoting same sex relations which was a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).Shiv called me from London and wanted my help. I wrote to the Home Secretary of the state and followed up with a phone call to my state director of AIDS control society to intervene with the state government and the criminal courts to secure the release of the three members of the community. It was not just the police but the local judiciary also was very hostile and it took us 45 days to secure their release.
But the fallout of the incident gave a positive fillip to our efforts in projecting the issue of decriminalising same sex relations in India in the media and with parliamentarians who were supportive of the community. It was since those days that Shiv and I came into close contact. Though a severe critic of the governments for criminalising and arresting MSM community members, he was appreciative of the efforts the National AIDS Control Organization(NACO) was making to control the epidemic in India and to secure a stigma free space for the MSM communities to work.
I met Shiv several times in India and later in the Asia Pacific region when I was Director of UNAIDS in the region. He played an active role in the formation of APCOM in July 2007 and thanked me for lending support from UNAIDS for drafting its constitution.
Shiv had his heart at the right place. His feeling of love and loyalty to his communities was unflinching. He was passionate about the cause of not just controlling HIV among the MSM but more so in securing them their rightful place in the society without stigma and discrimination.
Shiv has left us but the cause he stood for is yet unfinished. APCOM has made great strides in following the path laid by him. Country after country in Asia are taking steps to amend their criminal laws to remove the stigma faced by the community and secure their rights to live as equals with other citizens. His mission will be complete if we can secure an AIDS free and stigma free Asia Pacific with active involvement of all stakeholders including the governments and political leadership in the region. That will be the fittest tribute to Shiv’s memory.
About the Contributor
J V R Prasada Rao
- Former Special Envoy to UN Secretary General
- Former Health Secretary, Government of India
Former Health Secretary, Government of India, J.V.R. Prasada Rao worked extensively in health sector during and after his retirement from Government in 2004.He was appointed as the Director of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Health and family Welfare in 1997 to control the raging AIDS epidemic in the country. For the next five years Prasada Rao led the organization in an unprecedented response with multi stakeholder involvement. From 2002 to 2004 he served as the Secretary in the Health FW Ministry and was instrumental in bringing out a national health policy and a national AIDS control policy in 2002.
Prasada Rao worked as the Regional Director of UNAIDS, the joint UN programme for control of AIDS in December 2004. During those five years he led the UN response to AIDS in Asia Pacific countries using his experience from India’s national programme, the largest in the region. He initiated two independent commissions on AIDS to critically look at the dynamics of the epidemic and its socio economic implications to the region.He initiated several measures at decentralization of work to countries and in resource mobilization for the programmes.
After his return from Bangkok, Prasada Rao was appointed as the Special Envoy on AIDS for Asia Pacific region by the Secretary General United Nations Ban Ki Moon. He interacted closely with political leaders including Presidents and Prime Ministers of countries in the region for prioritizing AIDS control in the national plans and strategies. He facilitated discussions on inclusion of AIDS elimination as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for 2030 which was finally adopted in the UNGA declaration on SDGs in 2015.He also functioned as the Commissioner Secretary of a Global Commission on HIV and Law initiated by UNDP.
Here are some of the tributes in Shiv’s memory.
Joey Joleen Mataele
Sunil Babu Pant