New Delhi, Aug. 22: Finance minister Arun Jaitley’s reference to “one small incident of rape” and its toll in dollars on Indian tourism evoked furious criticism from women activists and the social media today.
Some of the bitterest condemnation came from the mother of the slain victim of the December 16 bus gang rape, to which the minister appeared to have referred.
“He has called the gang rape of my daughter a ‘small incident’ because people like him do not know what it means to lose someone you love in this grisly manner,” she said. “These things never happen to people like him.”
Jaitley had told a conference of state tourism ministers yesterday that rapes and poor law and order were among the factors holding back the tourism sector.
“Our law and order, one small incident of rape in Delhi advertised the world over, is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of lower tourism,” Jaitley said.
The government’s media release deleted the word “small” from the transcript but by then the video of the speech had gone viral.
“No rape is small; each rape is shameful — because it violates women’s rights and not because it affects tourism,” said women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan.
“It’s wrong for a minister to make such a remark and compare how such crimes can hurt the country’s economy,” said Nirmala Sawant, a member of the National Commission for Women.
A defensive Jaitley said he had been misunderstood. “I regret that the speech was misconstrued in certain sections, but it was not my intention,” he said.
“I had spoken at length as to factors which hurt tourism in India and one of the factors I mentioned was crime against women.”
He added: “I had strongly emphasised crime against women in India. I am sensitive to these issues and there is no question of trivialising any incident.”
But the victim’s father said the remarks had ruined the “solace” he had drawn from the way the entire country had mourned his daughter with him and the political class united to pass stricter sex crime laws.
“Comments like these make me feel that people like my daughter are being exploited for political gain,” he said.
After the gang rape, Jaitley, then an Opposition leader, had said: “All our heads must hang in shame today.”
He had added: “We must now introspect as to how we can improve our laws, our judicial processes and most importantly the consciousness of the citizenry which creates a better environment where women can live with dignity.”
One of the first schemes the new government approved was a Rs 500-crore project to have a rape crisis centre in every district. The scheme was christened Nirbhaya, drawing on the pseudonym by which the December 16 victim has come to be known.
The growth rate of tourist inflow to India last year was lower than the previous two years’. Around seven million foreigners visited India in 2013, just a quarter of the numbers that travelled to Thailand or Malaysia.
“No country can be Tourism Friendly if its not Citizen Friendly. If Desis don’t feel safe in India, how can u make Videshis safe?” tweeted author activist Madhu Kishwar.