Eminent persons from all walks of life led by author Vikram Seth have written an open letter asking the government to strike down a section of the Indian Penal Code that outlaws homosexuality.
The letter-signed among others by former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, filmmaker Shyam Benegal and writer Arundhati Roy-supported the "overturning of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era law dating to 1861, which punitively criminalises romantic love and private, consensual sexual acts between adults of the same sex".
The "archaic and brutal" law has been used to "systematically persecute, blackmail, arrest and terrorise sexual minorities", said the letter that was released in New Delhi on Saturday by an NGO.
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, in a separate letter of support, described the law as a "monstrosity", saying it violated fundamental human rights.
The law, which is currently being challenged in the Delhi High Court by rights groups, carries a maximum prison term of 10 years for persons convicted under it.
Former UN Under-Secretary General Nitin Desai, who signed Seth's letter, said, "Such relationships do not harm anyone. These relationships are consensual and are not treated as criminal activities in most parts of the world.
"By not recognising them, there will be more problems in the fight against AIDS," he said, adding homosexuals should be treated as a minority and their rights protected.
Seth's letter claimed Section 377 has "been used by homophobic officials to suppress the work of legitimate HIV-prevention groups", leaving gay and bisexual men in India "defenceless against HIV infection".