By Tony Grew
A leading Cabinet minister in India has said that laws that criminalise gay sex should be overturned.
Anbumani Ramadoss made his remarks at the 17th International Conference on AIDS in Mexico City last week. India has the greatest number of HIV/AIDS patients in the world, an estimated 2.5 million.
“Structural discrimination against those who are vulnerable to HIV such as sex workers and MSM (men who have sex with men) must be removed if our prevention, care and treatment programmes are to succeed,” he said, according to the Times of India.
“Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises men who have sex with men, must go.”
Mr Ramadoss is the country’s health minister.
The 39-year-old Tamil doctor is the youngest member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet and is tipped as a future leader.
He told the conference that “we are seeing the beginning of the stabilisation of the HIV epidemic in India.”
Last month the High Court in Bombay said that the controversial Section 377 needs revision.
The law punishes anyone who “voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” by imprisonment and criminalises a whole range of sexual acts from mutual masturbation, to fellatio and anal sex.
“There are lots of changes taking place in the social milieu and many people have different sexual preferences, which are even not considered to be unnatural,” said Justice Nazki.
“Therefore it is high time that the provisions of law which was made more than a century ago, is looked at again.’’
The judge’s remarks are not binding, but the city’s lesbian and gay community welcomed the progressive views of the judge as they are the first time any court in the country has spoken about changing the law.
Section 377 was enacted in 1860 under the British Raj in line with the anti-sodomy laws in England at the time.
In June more than a thousand people took to the streets of three major Indian cities to celebrate Pride.
The largest turnout was in Bangalore, where 600 people marched.
An estimated 300 LGBT people took part in New Delhi’s first ever Pride parade, while 400 marched in Kolkata.
Fears that the events would be targeted by religious groups proved to be unfounded.
Some participants wore masks to protect their identities.
The expanding economy of India has created the climate for a growing and visible community of homosexuals and transgender people.
The gay scene in larger cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai is increasingly vibrant.
Time Out Delhi was launched last year with a homosexual section and listings featuring gay nights and social gatherings.
In India there are huge social and legal pressures to live a heterosexual lifestyle but in recent years, the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality has strengthened.
By Tony Grew