An Indian Cabinet minister has said that he will ask the country’s Prime Minister to intervene in the row over the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.

Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss told the Times of India:

“At present, we don’t know exactly how many gays live in India because everybody is afraid to come out in the open.

“We know the HIV infection status of only 50% of these men. Around 86% of HIV infection is through unprotected sex.

“I will ask for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention once he returns to India.

“World over, people are accepting homosexuality. The home minister should be a lot more sensitive. How can we control physiological feelings of people?”

The Delhi High Court is considering a petition filed by gay rights activists asking for a colonial era law on “unnatural sex” to be overturned.

The home department has argued that Section 377 should be retained, and last week the law ministry agreed, brushing aside the health department’s assertion that repeal would help the fight against HIV infection.

India has the greatest number of HIV/AIDS patients in the world, an estimated 2.5 million.

Section 377 is “not merely confined to gay rights, it acts as a deterrent against those with sick minds too,” the law ministry said.

39-year-old Mr Ramadoss, a Tamil doctor, is the youngest member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet and is tipped as a future leader.

Section 377 was enacted in 1860 under the British Raj in line with the anti-sodomy laws in England at the time.