“I think I am ‘abnormal’ because, being a man, I am attracted to other men”, “My family is pressurizing me to get married to a woman and have a family”, “I feel isolated and depressed because of discrimination I face due to my sexual identity”, “I have been sexually abused and I am too scared to confide this with anyone”, “I have an infection in my private parts and feel ashamed to go to my family doctor”, “I have had unprotected sex with a stranger, and I am worried what I should do”.
These are some of the questions and fears, many men who have sex with men usually face, and they do not know whom to turn to. India’s first dedicated helpline for gay and transgender community was set up last week to cater to the queries/ concerns pertaining to health and psychological issues of MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) and Transgender. Sahaay Helpline, aided by an international NGO and supported by Humsafar Trust, is functional 24×7 with their toll free number of 1800-2000-113. Sahaay promises full confidentiality for the caller and says that apart from not asking any personal details like name, address etc, the calls also won’t be recorded, which will enable the users of this service to open up and have a free discussion.
A new 24 hours by 7 days helpline has been started to address this very important aspect and provide crucial information and counselling. Sahaay Helpline can be accessed by dialling the toll-free number 1800-2000-113.While the July 2nd 2009 Delhi High Court verdict read down Sec377 of IPC, effectively decriminalizing homosexuality, brought forward the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender(LGBT) community more openly talking about gender and sexuality, these have primarily been in the four large metros like Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata. In other cities and in smaller towns, the LGBT community is still pretty much underground and largely invisible. Gay men and lesbian women are still being forced into marriages with members of the opposite sex and transgenders face acute discrimination. Most of them do not know whom to turn to or seek help from.
To address this, and provide services for the hidden community of men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgenders, a new helpline offers round the clock information and counselling on HIV/AIDS, STI & psycho social and legal issues.
Launched by FHI360 as part of an operational research studyto determine the effectiveness in reaching out to MSM and promoting HIV/AIDS safe behaviour; the helpline is currently functional in three states of India, namely, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Maharashtra. Expressing happiness at the organization’s yet another pioneering achievement, Dr Bitra George, Country Director, FHI360 said, “With this helpline in place it would help to reach out to more and more of the community members who need health services especially HIV/AIDS and yet are afraid to seek them due to social stigma.”
“Sahaay helpline has many unique features”, mentioned Dr Ashok Agarwal, Project Director, Sahaay Project, “It has been customized into the helpline to ensure caller confidentiality and identity, a prime concern among the hard to reach population which the helpline aims to reach out to. These features including non-recording of call and non-identification of caller number to preserve identity of the caller at all times. The caller is also not asked personal identifiers like name, address and telephone number.”
Another feature that sets apart the helpline from other helplines is that it is a 24hours by 7 days available toll free number (1800-2000-113), which means the caller will not be charged and can talk freely for a long time with the counselor without worrying about his telephone costs. The caller can receive information and counseling by speaking to a counselor, or hear recorded message on interactive voice response (IVR), or receive message through automated sms. The helpline is going to be especially useful for MSM and TG who have not come out in the open or who do not want to access services from government targeted intervention (TI) projects due to different reasons.
The study is being conducted by FHI360 (an international NGO) with approval from Department of AIDS Control, Government of India. The study is technically and financially supported by PATH and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The project is being carried out in collaboration with The Humsafar Trust and three other CBOs in Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Maharashtra.
“The Humsafar Trust and FHI360 have partnered on various initiatives in the past and have joined hands once again with an aim to reach out to MSM and transgenders who continue to remain invisible and fear accessing health services. SAHAAY helpline aims to bridge that gap and strengthen the National Programme with MSM and Transgender community in India”, said Vivek Anand, CEO of The Humsafar Trust.
If the helpline is found useful, Sahaay Project will advocate with Department of AIDS Control in implementing it across the country.
For any information regarding the helpline itself, one may write to firstname.lastname@example.org or stay in touch on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Sahaay.Helpline