Ravi in Delhi on Thursday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Feb. 14: Union minister Vayalar Ravi has apologised for alleged sexist comments to a woman journalist after being asked about demands for a reinvestigation into Congress colleague and Rajya Sabha deputy chairman P.J. Kurien’s alleged role in the Suryanelli gang rape.
Ravi, the minister for overseas Indian affairs, allegedly responded with a personal swipe when the journalist in Kerala asked him earlier this week about the demand related to Kurien in the 1996 case.
“Do you have anything personal against P.J. Kurien? I am sure you do. Has something happened between you and him in the past?” Ravi allegedly said.
The comment drew widespread criticism and demands for a public apology. Ravi said today: “I am sorry for the comment. I have conveyed my regret to the TV channel in which the journalist works.”
Ravi also said he had called up the lady journalist and apologised but claimed at the same time that he had been “misunderstood”. “I have been misunderstood. I always joke with journalists. There is nothing deliberate. Everyone took it as a joke.”
But the BJP slammed the remarks. “It is extremely unfortunate that he has misused his authority and position to intimidate a journalist who was only asking a question that fell within the ambit of her professional responsibility,” BJP Mahila Morcha chief Smriti Irani said.
Ravi’s ministry and party colleague Manish Tewari called for the matter to “be put to rest” now that an apology had been made.
Tewari, the information and broadcasting minister, conceded that “such a comment is not expected from anyone in the public sphere” but added that “to the best of my knowledge, he has retracted the comment and expressed regret”. “Let us leave it there.”
But Tewari, interacting with women journalists, claimed the case was being unnecessarily sensationalised and said “the due legal process will be followed”.
Tewari also spoke on Kashmir, particularly the four-day restriction on publication of newspapers in the wake of Afzal Guru’s hanging, but suggested the Centre could not intervene.
“The freedom of expression is a constitutional right. It is the responsibility of the Union and state governments to protect this right. However, states have exclusive powers to maintain law and order. The question plays out within these two remits and it is a very difficult territory.”
Tewari added: “In states affected by insurgency, Left-wing extremism or secessionist movements, there is a law and order problem. States have to decide on restrictions. How far can the Centre step in?”