India's eunuch community mourned the deaths that occurred at the group's largest gathering [AFP]

At least 15 people have been killed by a fire that swept through a venue in New Delhi where nearly 1,000 members of the marginalised eunuch community had gathered for a national convention, police said.

The fire broke out around 7pm (13:30 GMT) on Sunday and quickly spread through the community hall in the Nandnagary neighborhood of east Delhi, where the meeting was taking place, as well as in tents erected in the grounds of the venue.

Police officials at the site said 12 bodies had been recovered and another two people were reported to have died of their burns in hospital. More than 36 people were injured in the blaze.

A group of attendees at the planned 20-day event, protested against the police statement, saying that the reported casualty number was too low.

The fire erupted on the final evening of a three-day all-India convention of the country's eunuch community.

One witness, Angelie, said there was a loud shot, then flames suddenly erupted and a gas cylinder exploded. Crowds of people ran to the exit from the fairground, the witness said.

Television reports cited fire officials as saying initial investigations suggested the fire had started in the venue's kitchen.

"We were rescued and brought outside the community centre but we don't know what has happened to some of our friends who we think are still inside," one person present at the gathering told reporters.

"The police aren't giving us the right information ... They are taking the bodies out through the back door of the hall," they said.

In India, the term "eunuch" is mostly used to refer to cross-dressers and pre- and post-operative transsexuals.

India's estimated 700,000 eunuchs are severely marginalised and often rely on begging and the sex trade for income as they are often unable to gets jobs.

Source: Agencies