Top Indian novelist under fire over 'rape' comment

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Best-selling Indian novelist Chetan Bhagat faced nationwide anger on social media sites on Wednesday after tweeting that the country's plunging currency had been "raped".

The comments by Mr Bhagat, known for his romantic, funny novels which are popular with India's middle-class youth, came amid renewed outrage over violence against women after the gang-rape in Mumbai of a photographer last week.

Twitter users slammed the former investment banker for the tweet - in which Mr Bhagat said: "The rupee is asking, is there no punishment for my rapists?" - accusing him of trivialising a grave problem.

"Making fun of a serious offence rather an inhuman act & comparing with downfall of Rupee is NOT AT ALL funny," wrote one user.

India's online news portal Firstpost told the novelist bluntly in a prominently displayed article: "Chetan Bhagat, rape jokes are just not funny", adding they are "tasteless and just plain crass".

The Mumbai attack rekindled memories of the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi last December that sparked nationwide protests and brought to the surface anger about violence against women in India.

The victim in the Mumbai attack was released from hospital on Wednesday.

Mr Bhagat swiftly deleted his tweet as the uproar grew, calling it "harmless" and saying he had referred to rape as a "metaphor" for the rupee's troubles.

It came on a day when the rupee plunged nearly four per cent against the dollar to a fresh record low amid investor concern about a lack of economic reforms, a string of government corruption scandals, and weak public finances.

"As all of you hunt for that (deleted) tweet realise that your economy is in a deep crisis. And do consider raising your voice about it," Mr Bhagat tweeted later.