The description of homosexuality as "unnatural" by Dr Indira Sharma, the departing president of the Indian Psychiatric Society, has created a stir within the association. Even as IPS office bearers distanced themselves from her statement, one of its members resigned from the society’s e-group.

Sharma made her remarks at the IPS’s annual conference in Pune on January 20, speaking on stage as the society’s departing president. She claimed that those uncomfortable with their homosexuality could seek psychiatric treatment. Her views sparked outrage in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community and drew sharp criticism from psychiatrists.

One such reaction came from Dr Anirudh Kala, a Ludhiana-based psychiatrist, who claims he shared and critiqued a news article on Sharma’s views on the IPS’s members-only online discussion forum. But the post was blocked by the group's moderators, Kala said, prompting him to resign from the forum in protest.

Kala later posted on his Facebook wall: “Have resigned from e-group of Indian Psychiatric Society. The moderators blocked my post protesting against past President Dr Indira Sharma’s views...The moderators wrote that the subject line of my post, ‘what is with the lady’ is gender insensitive.”

Founded in 1947, the IPS is the oldest association of psychiatrics in the country. It has more than 3,000 members. As a former chairperson on the IPS's task force for mental health legislation, Kala had given his professional views on homosexuality – which psychiatrists around the world have recognised as natural since 1973 – to the Naz Foundation when it was appealing against Section 377 of the Indian Constitution in the Delhi High Court. The section criminalises homosexuality.

Though the Delhi High Court overturned this section in 2009, the Supreme Court reversed the judgement in December, prompting LGBT activists to file a review petition.

“At a time like this, if views like Dr Sharma’s are given prominent place in the media, it will harm the cause of those working hard for justice,” said Kala. “I wanted to criticise Dr Sharma on the forum because as professionals, we should express our views only if they are backed by scientific evidence, not if they are personal opinions. But the moderators were probably afraid the matter would snowball into something larger and wished to avoid controversy.”

Dr Koushik Dutta, one of the forum's five moderators, declined to comment on the blocking of Kala's post, but added, “There are times when moderators have to think about preventing any altercation between members in case a post directly criticises a person.” He described Kala as a “thoughtful person” and a “good contributor who we cannot afford to lose”.

Sharma told Scroll that said she did not wish to speak to the media because she had been flooded with calls of protest about her statements. However, activists have been keen to demand a response from the IPS itself, since the statements had been made at a formal, national meeting.

While the IPS has not yet issued an official position on the matter of homosexuality, various office bearers responded informally on January 22. Among them was the Society’s current president Dr TV Asokan, who said that Sharma’s views were “not the official view of the IPS”. He made this clarification in a short email response to Dr Abhijit Majumdar, a stem cell researcher at Bangalore’s National Centre for Biological Sciences, who emailed Asokan demanding a public clarification. Both emails have been published by LGBT rights organisation Orinam on its website.

Dr TS Sathyanarayana Rao, the editor of the 'Indian Journal of Psychiatry', IPS’s official publication, also sought to clarify the IPS’s position in a letter to 'The Times of India'.  “…the position of Indian Psychiatric Society is very different," he wrote. "We agree with the variance in the society, that the homosexuality is not treated as unnatural and that we do not subscribe to the idea of the judgement of Supreme Court making it a criminal activity and absolutely we need to have concerns to the human rights issues of all concerned.”

Dutta admitted that the IPS would have to take responsibility for what its past president said at the conference. “What Sharma said was unscientific and the IPS does not endorse it,” he told Scroll.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, which is used as a guide by mental health professionals around the world, deleted homosexuality from its list of disorders way back in 1973, Dutta said. “Sometimes social factors can make a homosexual feel like it is unnatural, but our job is to help him adjust,” he said.

Despite this, many activists denounced the IPS’s attempts to salvage the situation. Bindumadhav Khire, president of Pune-based LGBT organisation Samapathik Trust, said that the IPS’s position can be recognised officially only if it is agreed upon by most members at a formal meeting.

“The IPS is one of the most important national bodies for mental health in the country, and if the Supreme Court’s recent verdict is reviewed publicly in an open-court, the Society’s view on homosexuality will become very significant,” said Khire.