Indian minister under fire over remark on women

NEW DELHI (AFP) - An Indian minister apologised Friday for causing offence after remarking that men were now "scared to talk to women" amid an ongoing public debate about sexual harassment following several high-profile cases.

"I'm scared to talk to a woman these days. I don't even want to keep a female secretary. Who knows, I might end up in jail because of a complaint," New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah told reporters.

Speaking outside parliament, he added that he wasn't "blaming the girls. I'm blaming society itself".

After condemnation from women's rights activists who accused him of trivialising a serious issue, he issued a partial apology for "hurting sentiments" but said he had been misconstrued. "They (my comments) have been completely misunderstood," said Mr Abdullah, who is from the Muslim-majority Kashmir region.

Abdullah's son Omar, who is chief minister of restive Jammu and Kashmir state which borders Pakistan, joined calls for his father to apologise. Writing on Twitter, he said: "I'm sure the attempt wasn't to trivialise important issue of women's security so I hope dad apologises for the misplaced attempt at humour."

Widespread media attention on sexual harassment is part of changes brought about by the fatal gangrape of a student on a New Delhi bus last December which led to profound introspection about gender inequality in India.

The editor of India's leading investigative magazine, Tehelka, is in police custody and faces a possible rape charge that could see him jailed for 10 years after a complaint from a junior colleague.

A Supreme Court judge is also being investigated for allegedly harassing an intern.

A new law passed in the wake of the Delhi gangrape toughened sentences for rape and also contained new penalties for acts such as voyeurism, stalking and groping.

The UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said in May that women in India suffered from "a generalised sense of insecurity in public spaces, amenities, (and) transport facilities in particular".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.