Kannur is one of Keralas 14 districts. Mulloli set up JACK (Joint
Action Council Kannur) as in informal body in the late 1970s responding
to the social needs of the Kannur area. This involved running development
programmes with a focus on adult literacy, and equipping the areas
young people with occupational and technical skills.
In the early 1990s, JACK formalised its activities by becoming a registered
public trust, operating as an umbrella organisation for 13 local NGOs,
co-ordinating and making more efficient use of their limited joint resources
and skills. Having existed solely on voluntary donations, JACK was also
hoping to attract government funding. The re-structuring included the
setting up of an executive body comprising representatives of industry,
trade chambers, clubs, medical associations, religious leaders, artists,
intellectuals and bureaucrats.
Although by the mid-1980s AIDS had become a major international concern,
and scientists and organisations were attempting to sound the alarm bells
in India, it was not generally seen as a significant threat in the sub-continent.
However, JACK was one of the first organisations to take the issue seriously,
accepting at that time the concept that AIDS was caused by a virus, HIV.
JACK looked closely at the patterns of population migration in Kerala,
concluding that the assumed epidemic posed a significant threat in the
state. Inspired by the success of the literacy campaign of Kerala, JACK
decided to launch an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign, combining it with a
house-to-house project promoting safe drinking water and a healthy family
Households in Kerala rely on private drinking wells for water rather than
on a public supply system, which accounts for why 60 per cent (%) of all
health problems in the state are water-borne. JACK decided a holistic
approach to health was needed, trying to make families see that health
was an affordable commodity and something they could well manage. This
was an approach more suited to the realities of everyday life in Keralas
communities. JACK saw the question of HIV/AIDS as a natural part of that
But this was where JACK had its eyes opened to the autocratic and arrogant
way in which the HIV/AIDS organisations do business.
All official HIV/AIDS activities, including the channelling of international
funds, are co-ordinated by NACO (National AIDS Control Organisation),
a department of the Indian governments Ministry of Health and Family
Welfare. When JACK approached NACO for a share of the massive international
funds then being injected into India to combat HIV/AIDS, it encountered
strong opposition among the donor organisations to its holistic approach.
JACK was still able to go ahead with the project using the resources of
its well-planned safe-drinking campaign. But after trying unsuccessfully
to get JACK to change its plan, these HIV/AIDS donor organisations then
launched a smear campaign, attempting to demoralise JACK by discrediting
it with government departments, other NGOs, and internationally.
JACK opposed interventions that focused on HIV/AIDS in isolation, like
the targeted interventions aimed at specific communities, which offered
little in the way of public health benefits, but rather, carried the potential
to do tremendous damage to these communities and their social fabric at
all levels. JACK became highly suspicious of the strong resistance of
the donor agencies to locally tailor-made campaigns where people were
being encouraged to develop their own prevention strategies. The donor
agencies had their own policy agendas, with pre-packaged programmes launched
and funded through a select handful of NGOs operating from plush offices
in big cities. They clearly had a huge stake in promoting the targeted
JACKs response to this situation was to start taking a closer look
at these organisations and their activities to try and find out exactly
what was going on and who was getting what.
The first opportunity to confront these agencies with some fundamental
questions about their approach came in 1995/96 when the DFID (Department
for International Development), a department of the United Kingdom government,
then known as ODA (Overseas Development Agency), launched a targeted interventions
project in Kerala. This was targeted at supposed HRGs (High Risk Groups),
specifically identified in Kerala as street children, sex workers, and
so-called tribals, that is, the indigenous peoples of the area.
From its long experience of involvement in the Kerala area, JACK raised
questions about the scientific basis and design of the project. For example,
JACK knew there were no identifiable street children in Kerala, and sex
workers were not a visible group. JACKs questions were met with
evasion and stonewalling. And when JACK managed to get the issue raised
in parliament as to why tribals were in the HRG, they were immediately
dropped from the category.
At the same time, JACK began lobbying NACO to release the details of a
study it had commissioned using public money that examined supposed high
risk behaviour in different groups across 65 cities in India. It was this
report that was being used by the DFID to justify its identification of
HRGs in Kerala. NACO spent 14 months refusing to respond to questions
about the report, but was eventually forced to release it after JACK won
an appeal in the Kerala High Court.
In the meantime, the DFID, which was using the report as a HRG identification
bible, was also refusing to release it, claiming the findings were confidential.
As JACK pointed out at the time, it was surprising that a study conducted
on behalf of and paid for by the Indian people was being kept confidential
from them, even though a foreign donor was allowed full access to it.
And, as NACO continued to respond to questions about the study, to the
point that even the Indian parliament was misled, it became clear to JACK
that the DFID was in full control of policy decisions at the highest levels,
and that foreign donors were determining the thrust and direction of HIV
intervention in India.
Having used the courts to force the study into the public domain, JACK
then discovered that NACOs nation-wide 65-city survey was virtually
non-existent. What little of it did exist had been used at will by the
DFID. JACK became convinced that NACO was operating as an arm of foreign
donors, serving only to legitimise their priorities at the expense of
the people, and willing to protect their interests even to the point of
In the DFIDs Kerala project, the emphasis had been on creating a
new project management agency that was accountable only to the DFID at
the cost of weakening Keralas State AIDS Cell by downsizing its
role. Involvement of NGOs were limited mainly to all kinds of private
firms from within and outside Kerala that had little to do with local
people and nothing to do with programme design.
JACK believed the categorisation of so called high risk groups in India
had become totally arbitrary, with various groups being included, based
on such diverse criteria as class, community, or region.
JACK became convinced the DFID had used a fabricated study to justify
its project. The DFID had created parallel systems of management, both
at government and at non-government levels, accountable only to itself,
and not to the Indian people. JACK believed the DFID had used decentralisation
to take power away from central government, not to give it to the people,
but to enhance its own absolute control. JACK began to notice that what
was happening in Kerala was characteristic of the DFIDs usurpation
of power throughout other areas of India.
The far-reaching implications of these discoveries so alarmed JACK that
it decided to look more deeply into the issue. This was the point at which
JACK made the all-important policy decision to close down its routine
activities in Kerala while Mulloli shifted his base to Delhi to concentrate
on understanding and addressing the full gamut of the international donor
agendas and issues relating to HIV at policy level. For JACK,
this step proved to be like the opening of Pandoras box.
It was at this point that JACK began to learn about the scientific flaws
in the HIV theory. Having approached the AIDS issue with its concerns
over the way foreign organisations were taking control of Indias
public health policies, now JACK found it had an additional mission, to
raise fundamental scientific questions about the whole HIV construct and
the damaging impact it was having on the people of India. JACKs
declared position on this is that it does not believe that HIV
is the cause of AIDS.
While still picking up the social issues, the main thrust of JACKs
activities are geared towards challenging the authorities and the agencies
to provide proof that HIV is a sexually or otherwise transmitted
virus that causes AIDS. JACK challenges the validity of the HIV
tests, and campaigns against the use of anti-retroviral drugs. At the
same time, JACK continues to raise concerns over the ambiguity of AIDS
case definitions that it believes can easily lead to many common conditions
in India being misdiagnosed as AIDS.
Having closed operations in Kerala, JACKs Delhi office consists
of only a handful of people working full time in challenging the HIV
establishment. The organisation operates through a very flexible, issue-based
process, networking with various national and local NGOs and communities
as required. A classic example of JACKs campaigning was the way
it challenged the treatment of Chhochi village (see separate article).
Here, a whole village was wrongly stigmatised by the Indian media as being
rife with HIV until JACK managed to force the truth out into
the public arena.
Besides taking up the cases of individual communities like Chhochi, JACK
busies itself campaigning against all kinds of measures at various levels
arising out of the hysteria of a misinformed public that believes in a
viral cause for AIDS. These include issues such as the compulsory HIV-testing
of women and children in welfare homes and of pregnant women at clinics,
the targeting of slum clusters for STD control in Delhi, and a government
decision to disclose the HIV status of blood donors.
JACK has also challenged court decisions that have an impact on public
policy. In 1996, for example, the Supreme Court of India, following a
public interest case, declared illegal the practice of professional blood
donors and recommended the setting up of a national blood council. This
was to reduce the supposed risk of spreading HIV infection,
despite surveys that showed professional donors to be among the lowest
Professional blood donors at that time contributed a third to one half
of Indias blood requirements. As a result of the ruling, the bill
for imported blood and blood products shot up from half a million US dollars
in 1993 to an estimated US $ 900 million in 1999, with some international
experts putting the figure at closer to one and a half billion US dollars.
At the same time, NACO, flush with World Bank loans and backed by the
Supreme Courts directive, went on a spending spree importing the
equipment needed to upgrade 40 blood banks across the country at a cost
of US $ 56 million. In Delhi, for example, the capacity was raised to
2.4 million units of blood, even though the citys requirements have
never exceeded 0.4 million units. The equipment has not yet been used.
JACK filed an analysis of the Supreme Courts decision, reporting
the fact there was no evidence to support the decision to ban professional
blood donors, and, through the media, raising the issue of the unused
equipment and the overall shortage of blood.
JACK has frequently used questions in parliament as a means of getting
its concerns aired in public, but has often been shocked at the number
of outright lies and denials handed out to MPs to head off public debates
of the issues raised. One example of JACKs work in this area concerns
the report of the 73rd Parliamentary Standing Committee on Dreaded Diseases
(HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, 1998). JACKs persistent queries on the contents
of the report led to the figure of "8.13 million HIV infected in
India being withdrawn from the report with the excuse that it was
a printing error. Official clarification reduced the figure to an estimated
In October 1999, JACK made a presentation to the Prime Ministers
Office criticising the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) phase 1,
and requesting a review of the newly launched phase 2. In this, JACK was
supported by some leading womens organisations, but despite an order
being issued for this to be done, the effort was side-tracked.
Having also by this time established contact with some of the leading
AIDS re-thinkers outside India, in February 2000, Jack hosted and co-ordinated
a visit to Delhi by Dr Roberto Giraldo, Dr Etienne de Harven and Dr Claus
Koehnlein. These met with representatives of NGOs, the medical community
and the media, and did much to put the concerns of AIDS critics internationally
in front of the Indian public.
Later that year, when an NGO supported by a foreign donor published an
highly offensive, technically flawed and methodologically unsound study
alleging that the hill people of Uttrakhand were at high risk of HIV
infection due to the behaviour of their migrant male population, JACK
again stepped in.
While most of the big names among Indian NGOs were rallying in support
of the concerned NGO from Uttrakhand, who had been arrested by the police
while rescuing them from the peoples fury, JACK came forward in
active support of the peoples protest. It ran a two-day workshop
"HIV/AIDS Myth and Reality in the hill district of Almora in
Uttrakhand where the scientific fallacies were addressed along with the
dubious role being played by such NGOs in the country. There was a further
one-day seminar in Delhi that also involved journalists.
As a result of this, the people of Uttrakhand were able to register an
effective protest against the report, get it withdrawn with apologies,
and the offending NGO shunted out of the region. It was a rare situation
in India, where for once the community affected fought back. Elsewhere,
such fabricated reports have gone unchallenged and become assimilated
into the systems and mindsets of the people. Labels have stuck.
JACK has continued to challenge media scare stories that have appeared
in various regions, such as Meerut, Bombay, Bhopal, Gwalior, Gauhati,
and Rohtak etc. It has also continued to challenge Indias HIV/AIDS
statistics, and undertaken critical reviews of various studies supposedly
confirming the high risk status of various groups, including health workers,
industrial labourers, migrants, and even married couples in certain regions.
JACK has supported various communities wherever they have been branded,
the most recent being that of certain castes in Madhya Pradesh, this time
by the Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission. JACK believes that besides
demonstrating the absurdity and the human rights implications of assuming
that people are inclined to prostitution, pimping, and HIV
infection because of their caste, this case also shows how constitutional
bodies are being used to impose anti-people agendas.
JACK has published a number of booklets addressing some of these issues
including HIV/AIDS Industry Agenda Behind the Epidemic in English
and Hindi in August 1999, followed by HIV/AIDS A New Colonization? The
Experience of Kerala in January 2000. These have been spread throughout
India and have frequently been used by groups as a basis for serious discussion
Gradually, JACK is finding support among womens organisations, such
as the All India Womens Democratic Alliance, political groups and
other organisations at both national and local level. Support is also
beginning to come from influential professionals, such as doctors, lawyers
JACK has noticed with interest that reporters working in the Indian media
are becoming much more critical of the HIV/AIDS information handed out
to them, asking more pertinent questions at news conferences, challenging
the AIDS-speak, and seeking out views from JACK with which to balance
All this had led to JACKs voice being taken more seriously by the
government, which can no longer hide from the issues being raised. When
JACK questions AIDS statistics, it creates a stir, forcing government
departments to make crucial statements in order to avoid more fall-out.
The government has on occasions even pre-empted JACK, anticipating an
attack and seeking to head it off. In particular, the government has become
highly sensitive to JACKs allegations of a parallel government,
in which foreign donor organisations see India as a lucrative playing
field for their entrenched interests. The suggestion that it has handed
over its responsibilities to foreign organisations is one that is causing
government departments to lose face.
Despite this, JACKs biggest constraints have been, and remain, financial.
Since closing down mainstream operations in 1995 to concentrate on the
HIV/AIDS issue, JACK has been surviving on the personal resources of those
involved. JACK has received much help in the shape of manpower, equipment,
printing material, travel and accommodation, from organisations and friends,
but it is not enough to underwrite what needs to be done. Because JACK
is seen as challenging the government and the system, conventional funds
are not available, whether by way of grant or donations. Currently JACK
is US $10,000 in debt.
However, it remains at this time the only organisation in India challenging
the HIV/AIDS community, and is keen to become a major player on the world
dissident stage, hoping to make a global contribution.JACK is part of
the IFAS world-wide network to promote in the name of human rights access
to encompassing and unbiased information and to educate the public about
fields about scientific insights in fields where scientific discord is
The author and JACK can be contacted at email@example.com
Donations to JACK can be made payable to:
IFAS: VABECH22 account No 16 6.035.973.00 state: JACK