The Indian government is to hold talks on repealing the country’s colonial laws on gay sex.

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

It punishes anyone who “voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” by imprisonment and criminalises a whole range of sexual acts from mutual masturbation, to fellatio and anal sex.

It was challenged in the High Court in Delhi last year. Now India’s Home and Health ministers will hold meetings with the Law Minister to discuss its repeal.

While the health ministry is fighting to repeal the law, on the grounds that decriminalisation will help stop the spread of HIV, the home ministry maintains that gay sex is the product of “a perverse mind.”

Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss called for the repeal of Section 377 in August at the 17th International Conference on AIDS in Mexico City.

The director of the United Nations Development Programme on HIV/AIDS has said that the fight against the disease in India will be helped if homosexual acts are decriminalised.

Jeffrey O’Malley said infections in the subcontinent, already an estimated 2.5 million, continue to rise.

“Until we acknowledge these behaviours and work with people involved with these behaviours, we are not going to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic,” he said.

“Countries which protect men who have sex with men … have double the rate of coverage of HIV prevention services, as much as 60%.”