HIV/AIDS as a Security Threat to India
Seema Sridhar ·       

Theoretical debates in international relations are grappling with the reality of bringing the non-traditional security issues into the larger framework of security studies. Issues such as the HIV/AIDS are primarily perceived as a "medical" concern, and have remained outside the focus of security analysts. Happymon Jacob in this book contends that it is imperative for India to 'securitise' the problem of HIV/AIDS and view it as an existential threat to India's security.

Jacob suggests that there need not be a single referent object of security. The attempt has been made to identify referent object of security in a given context by balancing the anthropocentric school which sees the human being as the ultimate referent object of security and the state-centric discourses which views the state as the referent object of security. The main argument made in this book is that security is a sectoral concept and not a monolithic one.

HIV/AIDS is a security threat to India. If security is a state of being safe from threats, then India is definitely not safe from the spread of AIDS. The debate of individual security vs state security is well enunciated in this book and the author arrives at the conclusion that HIV threatens many sectors of the nation and the individual is one of them. He delves upon the concept of securitization and identifies the referent object of security as the object of threat at a given point of time. He builds the argument with this premise and sees how India is threatened by HIV/AIDS. HIV poses a threat to India in several sectors like the economy, military and society. Various levels at which HIV/AIDS acts as a security threat are identified and there is an analysis of its impact on each of these levels.

There are contradicting claims about the extent of HIV/AIDS infected persons in the country and a modest estimate is around eight million. The author finds the future scenario of HIV in India highly disturbing because of increased mobility in a highly competitive globalized economy and also the nature of the population that is most vulnerable to this threat- the young, employable, productive population of the country.

The overriding factor that makes the HIV scenario in India most dangerous is our refusal/reluctance to acknowledge the threat. Ignorance, poverty and social stigma attached to the disease are catalysts in spreading the disease and also act as major roadblocks in combating the threat. HIV affected persons tend to be treated as social outcasts leading them into anti- social activities and crime. The case of HIV orphans in this regards has also been looked into as a potential threat to society. The unbridled spread of HIV leads to distrust among people and regional discords. Jacob foresees a situation wherein social institutions such as family might loose their stronghold and the foundation of these basic units of society would be shaken.

The extensive spread of HIV/AIDS can slacken the pace of economic growth by slowing down the flow if foreign direct investment into India. Business opportunities would be deterred from being fully utilized by the scare of HIV. Family savings would also face undue pressure as the disease spreads its tentacles amongst the vast middleclass population. The very movement of people would be perceived as a risk enhancer and this would adversely affect tourism, transportation and trade. The burden would mount on India's health sector which is already struggling to cope with existing problems.

Personnel of the armed forces and state security agencies are highly vulnerable to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and this affects their efficiency and morale. International peacekeeping missions, policing, patrolling etc tend to bear the brunt of this high susceptibility rate. Thus the threat of HIV/AIDS is also linked by the author to the traditional military security arena.

Jacob compares the experiences of African countries in combating the threat of HIV/AIDS to that of India. Fifteen years ago nobody considered that South Africa's HIV/AIDS situation would be what it is today. Similarly, not many people think today that India will soon be in South Africa's position. However, the author validates such a comparison as the main activities that cause the disease in both the countries are identical. It affected all sectors of their country- the military, police, society, law and order, education and family structure. This is where he predicts India is heading unless drastic and stringent measures are taken to fight this threat. He illustrates the Thai experience in dealing HIV as a model success story which India could emulate, in terms of well planned, mass based programmes.

The author successfully exemplifies HIV/AIDS as a security threat to the individual and to the collective. He says it needs to be accorded a special status of security concern as war and terrorism. He proposes appointing an experienced person in the rank of a minister in the Union cabinet or the PMO to co-ordinate HIV related activities in the country.

Jacob articulates certain important aspects that ought to be kept in mind while making HIV policies towards the end of the study. How these aspects are to be incorporated into specific practical programmes have not been elaborated. Currently the programes dealing with HIV/AIDS are doing so at the level of a serious health concern affecting huge numbers of the population. However, after having demonstrated it as a security threat, how does one go about tackling it at that level could have been included. Looking at the Government of India programmes on HIV/AIDS and suggestions for improvisations in mitigating the hazard would have made the study more comprehensive.

This is a pioneering study in India recognizing HIV/AIDS as a security threat and the suggestion that there need not be a single referent object of security is refreshing. Emphasizing the spatio-temporal context in identifying a referent object of security and attempting to place the individual and therefore collective in this light is a novel conjecture. This book looks at the HIV/AIDS hazard as a security threat to India and makes a commendable attempt to break away from the militaristic prism through which security is viewed in India.