Indian president's son apologises for anti-rape protests remarks

 
Indian demonstrators holds placards during a protest on Dec 27, 2012, calling for better safety for women following the gang rape of a student in New Delhi. The attack sparked a wave of protests across India. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - The Indian president's son landed himself in hot water with his own family on Thursday for denigrating women who took part in mass protests over a gang-rape as being middle-aged and caked in makeup.

Abhijit Mukherjee, who is also a member of parliament, came in for widespread condemnation after he said that many of those who have taken part in the nationwide protests were "dented and painted" women rather than students.

"These pretty women, dented and painted... have no contact with ground reality," Mukherjee told a regional news channel.

The phrase "dented and painted" is used by mechanics who mask the bruised bodywork and rust on second-hand vehicles with liberal coatings of paint.

Among the most vocal critics was his own sister Sharmishtha who described his comments as "a bit of a shocker" and said her father, President Pranab Mukherjee, also disapproved.

"It is definitely something that we as a family definitely don't agree with," she told the NDTV network.

"It's not just one protest, it's accumulated rage over the way women are being treated, raped, molested... my father is absolutely with me on this."

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party said Mukherjee junior's remarks were particularly ill-timed as the 23-year-old victim of the December 16 attack fights for her life in hospital in Singapore.

"I think this is exactly the kind of mindset that the youth is fighting against," said Smriti Irani, head of the BJP's women's wing.

Mukherjee later issued an apology.

"My intention was not to hurt anyone," he told NDTV. "I apologise to all those people whose sentiment got hurt by these sentences and these sentences are withdrawn."

On Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a gathering of chief ministers from across India that there was a “problem” which “requires greater  attention” by the central and state governments.    Six men are in custody in connection with the assault. Singh, whose government has been stung by criticism about the notoriously slow Indian justice system, said their case would be dealt with “expeditiously”.

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