The health minister of India, who drew worldwide condemnation when he said homosexuality is a "disease," is now saying he was misquoted.
Speaking Monday at an HIV/AIDS conference in New Delhi, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad seemed to repeat a common refrain in conservative India that the gay lifestyle was imported to India from the West.
“It is a matter of concern that, unfortunately, in the world and in our country this disease has arisen, where men are having sex with men, which is unnatural and should not be happening,” Azad said, according to a translation from Hindi by the Associated Press.
After he was roundly criticized, Azad said at a "hastily called news conference" on Tuesday that his words were being misinterpreted.
“Some people have played with the words. I have been quoted out of context,” he said. “My reference was to HIV as a disease. As health minister, I know (male homosexual sex) is not a disease.”
India is not the most gay-friendly of places. It was only two years ago that the nation's highest court struck down a law that made being gay a criminal offense, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Although prosecutions were rare, the colonial-era law was often used to harass gays.
After the initial comments, Anand Grover, the UN special rapporteur on health, said Azad should be fired.
"His remarks are completely insensitive. It lowers the dignity of the gay community," he said. It's is unacceptable to have a minister talking like this."