India: Mahesh Sharma retreats from ‘skirts’ comment

After criticism, tourism minister backtracks on suggestion that foreign female visitors should not wear skirts.

India''s Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma pauses during an interview with Reuters inside his office in New Delhi
Sharma later said he 'spoke out of concern' [Ahmad Masood/Reuters]

After drawing widespread criticism, India’s tourism and culture minister has backtracked after suggesting that female foreign tourists should not wear skirts in the country.

Talking to journalists in the north Indian city of Agra on Sunday, Mahesh Sharma said tourists would be handed a “a list of dos and don’ts” at airports that would advise them “not to wear skirts” or “venture out alone at night in small cities”.

“For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts,” he said. “Indian culture is different from the western.”

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Sharma, whose comments came under fire in India and abroad, clarified on Monday that he was referring only to religious places, and that he “spoke out of concern”. 

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“I was speaking about religious places, like temples. I did not comment on what women should wear or not. I am the father of two daughters. I cannot put a ban on what women wear,” Sharma said.

“Such a ban is unimaginable, but it is not a crime to be cautious,” he added. “Different countries issue advisories from time to time, but I never said change anyone’s way of dressing.”

Despite the minister’s rebuttal, many Indians criticised him online. 

“Mahesh Sharma go home & make a sandwich. Don’t dictate terms to women under garb of Indian culture,” one Twitter user using the screen name “SheSays” tweeted. 

“How are you less than a Taliban? They also want to control what to wear, what to eat?” Rajesh Sharma, from the opposition Aam Aadmi Party, asked.

Sharma, from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has been criticised for his controversial comments about women in the past.

Last year, he said “nights out for girls were not part of Indian culture” and added he would defend India from “encroachment by Western culture”. 

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Nearly four years after the fatal gang rape of “Nirbhaya”, a 23-year-old medical student, on a moving bus jolted the country into passing a tough new anti-rape law, sexual violence against women continues to make headlines.

Nearly 100 rapes are reported each day but only one in four rape cases leads to a conviction.

Another gang rape shook India on July 29 – this time of a mother and her teenage daughter, who were dragged from their car in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and taken to a nearby field, where they were assaulted.

At around the same time, a 21-year-old woman was allegedly raped for a second time by the same group of men who had raped her in 2013 – because she refused to accept their out-of-court settlement.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies