An opposition lawmaker in the southern Indian state of Karnataka has apologised for joking about rape.
“There is a saying that when rape is inevitable, lie down and enjoy it,” Congress leader KR Ramesh Kumar said in reply to speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri’s remark on chaos in the state assembly.
Mr Kageri and some other lawmakers laughed in response.
But Mr Kumar had to apologise after the statement drew outrage.
On Friday, he said in the assembly that he was apologising “with an open heart” to anyone who was hurt by the remark.
“I had no intention of insulting women, or lowering the prestige of the assembly, or joking about it. I had no ulterior motive,” Mr Kumar said.
His controversial remark on Thursday was made after Mr Kageri expressed his helplessness at not being able to control lawmakers.
“You know, Ramesh Kumar, I now feel that we should just enjoy the situation. I have decided to give up on trying to control and streamline this situation. I will just let them talk,” said the speaker.
Women lawmakers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Mr Kumar’s Congress party called his remark “insensitive” and threatened to protest against it.
“When we came to the assembly, we looked up to Ramesh Kumar for his parliamentary acumen. But it looks like he has no respect for women,” said BJP legislator Poornima Srinivas, who also criticised Mr Kageri for laughing.
“A woman who faces sexual assault suffers trauma all her life. It is wrong to use this as an analogy for something else,” said Congress lawmaker Roopakala M.
On Friday, Mr Kageri turned down requests by women lawmakers to speak on the issue, saying that Mr Kumar had apologised.
“We all respect women and we strive to ensure that the respect for the woman is not diluted. I don’t think there is need to raise the issue and create a controversy,” Mr Kageri said.
Meanwhile, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Karnataka has filed a complaint against Mr Kumar, and asked the state governor to sanction legal action against him, ANI news agency reported.
This is not the first time that Mr Kumar has been criticised for his comments perceived as sexist.
In 2019, when he was the speaker of the assembly, he compared himself with a “rape victim” while reacting to corruption allegations.
“I got raped once. But like every rape victim, I am being made to feel like I was raped multiple times,” he said. He apologised a day later after a female lawmaker from his own party demanded an apology.
Sexual crimes against women have been in the spotlight since the infamous 2012 gang-rape of a woman on a bus in the capital, Delhi. But despite the increased scrutiny, rape remains a serious problem, with tens of thousands of new cases reported annually.
In recent years, women’s organisations and activists have been quick to call out regressive statements made by influential people, including politicians.
Many have also been forced to apologise after videos of their remarks went viral on social media.
Such comments have also spawned protests and online campaigns challenging patriarchal attitudes and victim-blaming.