NEW DELHI (AFP) - A top Indian court issued a landmark ruling on Thursday decriminalising gay sex between consenting adults, overturning colonial-era legislation that outlawed homosexuality. The New Delhi High Court ruled that an existing statute prohibiting homosexual acts was discriminatory and therefore a violation of fundamental rights under the constitution. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is the antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster dignity of every individual, the bench said in a 105-page judgement. The statute in question is a British colonial-era law. Conviction carried a fine and maximum 10-year jail sentence. Although prosecutions were rare, activists said police used the law to harass and intimidate members of their community. The High Court ruling was made on a petition brought by the Naz Foundation, a homosexuality advocacy group fighting for equal rights and AIDS awareness. This is a long-awaited and incredible judgement, said activist Gautam Bhan. The judges in their verdict spoke about inclusivity, equality and dignity. They spoke about a vision of India as an open, tolerant society and to hear all this from the Delhi High Court was amazing, Bhan said. While the ruling is non-binding outside the Indian capital, lawyers supporting the petition said it set a precedent that effectively decriminalised consensual gay sex nationwide. The petition had been staunchly opposed by religious groups, particularly leaders of Indias Muslim and Christian communities who argued that all homosexual acts were unnatural and should therefore be banned. This is absolutely wrong, Ahmed Bukhari, imam at the Jama Masjid in Delhi, Indias largest mosque, said of the ruling. We will not accept any such law, Bukhari said. Father Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, said the courts decision would make no difference to the Churchs stand. While respecting the judgement of the court, we still hold that homosexuality is not an acceptable behaviour in society, he said. Homosexuality has long been a taboo subject in conservative India, where many still regard homosexuality as an illness. In recent years, however, the countrys largely closeted homosexual community has raised its profile, organising gay pride marches in major cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai. I feel very proud to be an Indian today. This was a very just ruling, said openly gay fashion designer Wendell Rodericks. The Indian government has offered mixed messages on the issue, with some ministers speaking out in favour of the petition, only to be contradicted by others in the cabinet. The government cant ignore this, Naz Foundation executive director Anjali Gopalan told reporters after the ruling was announced. Law Minister Veerappa Moily declined to offer any immediate comment on Thursdays ruling, telling reporters at parliament that he needed to study the text properly. The government has the right to appeal.