UN chief Ban Ki Moon says India is breeding intolerance via criminalisation of homosexuality

NEW DELHI (AFP) - United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon has accused India of fomenting intolerance with its ban on gay sex amid uproar over a ruling party minister's plans to make homosexuals "normal".

Speaking on a visit to the capital New Delhi, Mr Ban said he "staunchly opposed the criminalisation of homosexuality" referring to India's colonial-era law that prohibits gay sex.

"I am proud to stand for the equality of all people - including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender," the UN Secretary-General said in a statement late on Monday. "I speak out because laws criminalising consensual, adult same-sex relationships violate basic rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination. Even if they are not enforced, these laws breed intolerance."

India's Supreme Court reimposed a ban on gay sex in late 2013, ruling that the responsibility for changing the 1861 law rested with lawmakers and not judges.

Gay sex had been effectively legalised in 2009 when the Delhi High Court ruled that banning "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" was a violation of fundamental rights.

Mr Ban's comments came on the same day that a state minister from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party announced his plans to make gays "normal" in the coastal resort state of Goa.

Mr Ramesh Tawadkar, sports and youth affairs minister in Goa's state government, told reporters that he planned to open up centres on the lines of Alcoholics Anonymous to treat them.

"We will make them normal. We will have centres for them, like Alcoholic Anonymous centres," Mr Tawadkar said, adding that the state would "train them and give them medicines too".

Mr Tawadkar, a member of Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made the comments after releasing the state's policy on youth issues, which listed lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders as a stigmatised group that needed attention.

His comments drew widespread criticism and ridicule from gay rights groups and social media, with jeering remarks posted on Twitter.

"There has to be someone from the higher authorities... from the BJP who will have to speak up on this because when you are silent about someone making such an irresponsible statement you are actually admitting it," Mr Harish Iyer, a gay rights activist, told NDTV news channel.