NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An Indian female politician and activist suggested on Tuesday that victims of rape may have invited attacks on themselves with their clothes and behavior.
Asha Mirje, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader in the western state of Maharashtra, questioned why a 23-year-old physiotherapy student who was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi in 2012 was out late at night.
The student later died of her injuries and thousands of Indians took to the streets in nationwide protests against the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in the world's largest democracy.
A number of shocking incidents have since been highlighted in Indian media, most recently the case of a 20-year-old woman who said she was gang-raped in a rural area of West Bengal in eastern India on the orders of a village court last week.
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"Girls should be very careful about what they wear and at what time they move out in city," Mirje said. "Their body language should not invite attention of the potential rapists lurking around in the streets."
Mirje, who is a member of the state women's commission, said in reference to the Delhi assault: "Did Nirbhaya really have go to watch a movie at 11 in the night with her friend?"
"Nirbhaya," a Hindi word meaning "fearless," has been widely adopted by the Indian media as a name for the victim.
Mirje also commented on the gang rape of a photojournalist who was on assignment at a disused mill in Mumbai last year, asking why the victim had gone to such an isolated place.
"Rapes take place also because of a woman's clothes, her behavior and her presence at inappropriate places," she said.
Women must be "careful," she said, and think if they are inviting assault.
Sexual violence has become a huge social and political issue since the Delhi rape and India toughened laws on sex crimes in March last year. Public anger over the poor state of women's safety in Delhi was one reason that the ruling Congress Party was wiped out in local elections in the city last month.
"Every time such a statement is made by a public figure it justifies rape," Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, a lobby group, told Reuters.
"It's unconscionable that people in public posts make such remarks."
Mirje's party belongs to the Congress-led national coalition government and her comments caused an immediate stir, with several television reports pouring scorn on her.