Health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's comment that men having sex with men (MSM) is a "disease" and "unnatural" has drawn flak from the gay community and activists who have been fighting tooth and nail for greater social acceptability for homosexuals.
Mohnish Malhotra, who has been long involved in the fight for gay rights and is one of the organisers of the annual gay pride, said the minister's comments were shocking.
"It's shocking that such a comment was made by the country's health minister," Malhotra told IANS.
"Even the UN passed a resolution saying that the LGBT community has equal rights as anyone else and cannot be discriminated on the basis of their sexual orientation," he added.
On Monday at a conference on HIV/AIDS, Azad said: "The disease of MSM is unnatural and not good for India. We are not able to identify where it is happening as it is less reported also."
"It is a challenge because in cases of female sex workers we can identify the community and reach out to them. But in case of MSM, it is becoming difficult," he added.
He also pointing to increased efforts to promote condoms, treat sexually transmitted diseases, and launch information and communication programmes among transgenders and sex workers.
Strongly disagreeing with the minister's comment, Ashok Row Kavi from Hamsafar Trust said: "Gay sex is not unnatural. It is a matter of one's sexual orientation. If out of 100 children, five are left-handed, do you call them unnatural?".
Amrita Sharma, an activist, said the health minister should limit himself to talking about health issues instead of commenting on a person's sexuality.
"Homosexual sex is just as natural as heterosexual sex. In a democracy, gays should have the same rights as heterosexuals...Most sex workers use condoms. The problem arises when men have sex outside of marriage without protection," she added.