Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss may not have found support in the government for decriminalising homosexuality, but India's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chief S Rajendra Babu is on his side. He says the NHRC not only supports gay rights but is also in favour of legalising prostitution.
"If two adults want to be together, then why should anyone have a problem? The commission, in this regard, has a broad outlook," former chief justice of India Babu told IANS in an interview.
"The commission inquires into violations of human rights. The right to liberty of expression is one of them," Babu said while charting out the various responsibilities of the commission.
The government told the Delhi High Court last week that gay sex was "against the order of nature", and that Western values could not be blindly aped in India.
"We cannot compel our society to follow the trend of Western society," Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra told the court while countering the submission of the gay activists' counsel who cited laws in various countries including Canada, South Africa and Cyprus.
The counsel was making a plea to decriminalise gay sex in private among consenting adults.
The Indian Penal Code terms homosexual acts an offence under Section 377, which provides for punishment up to life imprisonment. Ramadoss is facing stiff resistance from the home ministry for his efforts to do away with Section 377.
Coming out in strong support of legalising prostitution, Babu said such an initiative will protect women instead of exploiting them.
"Sex workers should be given licences to practise their trade. Because with that, they will also get a health licence and other benefits which will protect and benefit them.
"The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act has failed to abolish prostitution and, more often than not, makes the victim look like the accused."
Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhry had on an earlier occasion said that India will not consider legalising commercial sex or giving licences to brothels.
However, civil society groups like the Bhartiya Patita Uddhar Sabha have been demanding the legalisation of commercial sex workers since 1984, saying that will ensure better health and education to the 5.4 million children of sex workers.
Khairati Lal Bhola, president of the Sabha, while pressing for legalisation of prostitution, said: "Not only will the government earn a tax on their income, it will help in chucking out agents, middlemen, goons and corrupt police officials who take hafta (protection money) from them.
"Sex workers can earn more to provide education to their children, who can be prevented from inheriting their mother's profession."
Bhola said a survey conducted during 1990-96 revealed that there were more than 7.5 million call girls, 2.38 million prostitutes, 1,100 red light areas and 300,000 brothels across the country.
Now, more than a decade later, the number has gone up manifold and the condition of sex workers is still vulnerable, especially due to the threat of diseases like AIDS.