Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party came under fire Tuesday after a minister from one of its state governments announced plans to make gays “normal” in the Goa resort region.
Ramesh Tawadkar, from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the Goa state government was planning to open centres to treat homosexuals in the region, whose long sandy beaches and laid-back lifestyle have long been a haven for tourists.
“We will make them normal. We will have centres for them, like Alcoholics Anonymous centres,” sports and youth affairs minister Tawadkar told reporters on Monday, adding that the government would “train them and give them medicines too”.
Gay rights groups branded the comments offensive and ignorant, while the main opposition Congress party slammed the minister’s attitude as shameless.
“We should not respond to this kind of stupidity,” said Anjali Gopalan, founder of Naz Foundation, which first launched a case to decriminalise homosexual sex in India.
“It’s better to ignore such things coming from the BJP. Their regressive attitude is not surprising,” Gopalan said, calling the minister an “incompetent nincompoop”.
Facing a barrage of criticism, Tawadkar on Tuesday insisted he had been misquoted even as television footage of his comments continued to be run on local news channels.
The backlash came one day after UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned legislation against gay sex. Secretary General Ban said laws against gay and lesbian relationships breed intolerance, although he did not refer specifically to India’s colonial-era prohibition.
Speaking on a visit to the capital New Delhi on Monday night, Ban said he “staunchly opposed the criminalisation of homosexuality”.
“I am proud to stand for the equality of all people, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” Ban said in an address to a gathering that included India’s Nobel peace prize winner Kailash Satyarthi.
“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.”