(CNN)India’s tourism minister is furiously backpedaling after suggesting that women who visit India shouldn’t wear skirts for their own safety.
Mahesh Sharma made the comments over the weekend while promoting a welcome kit that will be handed out to tourists when they arrive in India.
“There’s a card in there listing the do’s and don’ts. Basic things like, ‘Don’t go out at night alone.’ ‘Don’t wear skirts.'”
The outrage was immediate. And for good reason.
A string of sexual assaults against foreign women has sullied India’s reputation.
The country has amended its laws to broaden the definition of rape to include any form of penetration; it lists out strict punishments not only for rape but also for sexual assault, voyeurism and stalking.
But still, every high-profile case — and there have been several — brings the question to the forefront again: Is India doing enough to protect women? Is it creating a strong enough deterrent for crimes against women?
For one thing, India is ill-equipped to process not just sexual assaults and rape, but all kinds of crime. It has a shortage of forensic laboratories; one of the worst police-to-citizens ratios in the world, and far fewer lawyers and judges than it needs to process cases.
Critics lambasted the minister, saying his comments put the onus on women, rather than on a government that ought to do a better job of improving security.
“Sir please give us bad women a lecture on Indian Culture. We are getting outta control N need to be harnessed!” said Sapna Moto Bhavnani, in one of many similar tweets taking the minister to task.
On Monday, Sharma tried to clarify what he meant.
“I am a father of two daughters…I would never tell women what they should wear or not,” he told reoprters.
“Such a ban is unimaginable, but it is not a crime to be cautious. Different countries issue advisories from time to time, but I never said change anyone’s way of dressing.”
This isn’t the first time, however, that Sharma has stoked controversy with his comments on how to ensure the safety of women.
Last year he said Indian women shouldn’t go out at night.
“Girls wanting a night out may be all right elsewhere but it is not part of Indian culture,” he said.
CNN has tried to reach Sharma for comment but without luck.
By the way, the pamphlet that Sharma referred to makes no mention of skirts.