(Corrects the title of minister in first paragraph)
By Kamil Zaheer
NEW DELHI, July 16 Indian men cannot be trusted in their sexual behaviour and are fuelling the country's HIV epidemic, a female government minister said on Monday, slamming the country's "hypocrisy" about sex.
Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury said Indian women should protect themselves from HIV/AIDS by keeping condoms as their straying husbands may bring the virus home after visiting other women.
"You cannot trust men or your husbands, with apologies to the men present here," Chowdhury told the inaugural meeting of the National Women Forum of Indian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+), attended by a few men.
"If you believe that men will be careful, then you can forget about protecting yourself."
India has around 2.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS -- the world's third highest caseload after South Africa and Nigeria -- with about 40 percent of those infected being women.
Activists and officials say many women have been infected after their husbands visited prostitutes. Most wives have little power to negotiate safe sex with their husbands in a largely patriarchal and conservative society, they add.
Chowdhury, one of India's most outspoken ministers, said this needed to change.
"We are so embarrassed to ask about condoms. Women need to get condoms to protect themselves, let the men be suspicious," she said.
"Men will not buy a condom when they come staggering home while drunk," she added, evoking laughter and giggles.
This month India launched a $2.8 billion plan to fight AIDS over five years, a more than fivefold jump in spending over the preceding plan, with a strong focus on condom promotion.
Under the plan, India aims to push usage from 2.1 billion condoms this year to 3.5 billion by 2012.
"We are hypocrites. We have a 1 billion population and don't want to talk about sex," Chowdhury told reporters, referring to the refusal of some state governments to implement sex education ostensibly for going against Indian culture.