An Indian government minister has sparked fury over comments he made about homosexuality.
Speaking at a Delhi conference on HIV and AIDS attended by many top officials, India’s health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad described homosexuality as a disease which has come from other countries, and gay sex as unnatural.
Even though it is unnatural, it exists in our country and is now fast-spreading, making it tough to detect, he said.
He also noted that gay sex between men should not happen, but does.
He added that though it is easy to find women sex workers and educate them on sex, it is a challenge to identify men having sex with men.
According to BBC, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi attended the conference, but departed prior to Azad’s speech.
Criticism of Azad came from many quarters, from Indian AIDS activists to the United Nations; and even Bollywood.
According to the Hindustan Times newspaper, Anand Grover, the UN’s special rapporteur on health, said of Azad’s remarks: It's unfortunate, regrettable and totally unacceptable that a minister of his stature... is still insensitive to vulnerable groups such as MSM [men who have sex with men],
Another top UN health official chimed in.
“India's rich tradition of inclusivity and social justice must include MSM and transgenders,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
“India's successful response to AIDS is possible due to strong participation of communities of MSM, sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgenders, backed by a strong and progressive National AIDS policy.”
Anjali Gopalan, founder and executive director of The Naz Foundation Trust, which is dedicated to fighting AIDS in India, told BBC: He's living on another planet - either he's very ill- informed or he's speaking to a very narrow constituency of his own. He was addressing officials from across the country and this was a golden opportunity to deal with discrimination. Instead he let it slip through his fingers. I'm hoping it will not put us back another 10 years.”
Gopalan added: My blood pressure must have gone through the roof. I'm so angry; I can't put it into words. These guys shouldn't be in these positions.”
Indian gay rights activist Mohnish Kabir Malhotra demanded an apology from Azad, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).
Homosexuality is very much a part of nature and it even finds references in religious texts. To call it unnatural is absurd, Malhotra said. “It is shocking that such a comment was made by the country's health minister.”
India’s huge film industry also weighed in on Azad’s inflammatory comments.
Vishal Dadlani, a movie music composer called Azad an “idiot” and tweeted: 'India's problems are reflected in the people we elect. Illiteracy, rampant corruption, delusion and misled religious fervour.”
A spokesman for the health ministry said Azad's comments were taken out of context.
He was not insulting anyone, Shefali Sharan told AFP.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in India in 2009, however discrimination and prejudice against gays remains potent.
BBC reported that 8 percent of gay men in India are believed to be infected with HIV.