Indian ministry rebuked over gay 'disease' claim
Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi
A high court judge has rebuked India's Home Ministry for claiming that homosexuality is a disease that could lead to moral degradation if legalised.
Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra, who is defending a law criminalising homosexuality on behalf of the Home Ministry, shocked many Indians on Monday with his courtroom description of gay sex.
'Homosexuality is a disease. Every citizen has the right to lead a decent and moral life in society, and the right would be violated if such behaviour is legalised in the country,' Mr Malhotra said.
'Aids is already spreading in the country, and if gay sex is legalised then people on the street would start indulging in such practices, saying that the high court has given approval for it. Legalising it would send a wrong message to our youth.'
Mr Malhotra also claimed that homosexuality was responsible for the spread of Aids in India, and called it 'perverse' and a 'vice'.
A lawyer representing the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in the case expressed equally strong views, claiming that homosexuality was 'an evil exported by the west'.
Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah was unimpressed, asking Mr Malhotra to ''show us one report which says that it is a disease. It is an accepted fact that it is a main vehicle that causes disease, but it is not a disease itself.'
The judge is hearing a petition to decriminalise homosexuality, filed by the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, a New Delhi-based NGO working on HIV/Aids and sexual health. In 2002, the trust began legal proceedings against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, an anti-sodomy law introduced under British colonial rule that punishes gay sex with 10 years' imprisonment. Earlier in the hearing, the chief justice rejected Mr Malhotra's request to introduce religious texts as evidence.
'This is just part of religious doctrine. Show us some scientific report which says that gay sex should be criminalised,' he said.
At the hearing, the Home Ministry and the Health Ministry are at loggerheads, with the latter seeking the de-criminalisation of homosexuality on the grounds that this is needed to fight Aids.
Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has said legalising homosexuality would result in better treatment for people with HIV/Aids.
Because it is illegal, homosexuals are reluctant to be tested for HIV or to get treatment. But with the Home Ministry refusing to countenance legalising homosexuality, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intervened this week and asked both ministries to sit together and sort out their differences.
Although a handful of urban, educated homosexuals are beginning to be open about their sexuality, the vast majority prefer to keep it under wraps, knowing it is repugnant to their family, friends and society.