Panaji, Goa, Dec 16 : A Congress MP’s indiscrete remarks about the alleged rape of a Russian woman in Goa led to outrage Wednesday with the Russian consul general writing to the state government, an embarrassed Congress distancing itself and a clamour for a public apology from the MP.
Goa’s lone Rajya Sabha MP Shantaram Naik shocked many in the house Tuesday for saying that a rape case should be treated differently if the victim was known to be moving with strangers beyond the middle of the night.
"An alleged rape of a lady who moves with strangers for days together, even beyond middle of the night, is to be treated on a different footing," Naik said. His comment followed the Dec 2 suspected rape of a Russian woman in the tourist hotspot, allegedly by a Goa politician John Fernandes.
Russian Consul General in Mumbai Alexander Mantytsky protested to the Goa government and voiced concern over rising crimes against Russian citizens in the state that draws hundreds of Russian tourists.
The consulate said if the Goa government believes that the rape was justified since the woman was out of her hotel at 2 a.m., it would warn Russian nationals visiting the state, according to diplomatic sources.
Though Dmitry E Chelyshev, counsellor (media and culture) of the Russian embassy refused to comment on the complaint against Naik, another diplomat confirmed that the Mumbai consulate had written to the Goa police and the chief minister’s office. "I won’t be able to tell you when it was written," he said.
In another letter to Chief Minister Digambar Kamat dated Dec 14, Mantytsky had said: "The incidents where Russian citizens are victim of crime in Goa have caused a great public concern in our country. Because of poor security situation in Goa, foreign tourists might become victims of crime."
Referring to the alleged rape of a Russian woman and the harassment faced by the victim from police, Mantytsky said: "We would be happy to inform our citizens not to remain outside after 10 p.m., if you suppose that it would assist in their security."
The diplomatic implications of the row were not lost.
Exernal Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was quoted as telling a television channel: "Let’s make it very clear that the security of foreign tourists is the Indian government’s responsibility. Well, at the same time, even they (foreign tourists) have to be very cautious with whom they move and go out. I think this is something which we also observe when we go outside the country."
While a clearly uncomfortable Congress reacted cautiously with most leaders privately admitting that they were appalled and some maintaining that they need not comment as the remarks had been expunged, party spokesperson Manish Tiwari was categorical.
He said there was no confusion on the party stand on rape. "There are no two kinds of rape. The law is clear on heinous crimes," Tiwari told Times Now channel.
Demands for an apology from Naik came in swift and fast.
Ranjana Kumari, chairperson of the Centre for Social Research, said Naik should publicly apologise for the "loose statement". National Commission for Women chairperson Girija Vyas was equally emphatic: "It was an absolutely irresponsible and derogatory remark."
The BJP was quick to seize on the opportunity too. Stating that the Congress MP had defamed Goa’s credentials as a safe state, BJP spokesperson Govind Parvatkar called a press conference in Panaji to say: "He should publicly apologise for his statement."
"When men can go around freely and safely during odd hours and during the night, how can anyone discourage women from staying out at night? What the Rajya Sabha MP said was ridiculous," Parvatkar said.
The man at the proverbial eye of the storm seemed unmoved, however, and defended his comments.
"Where is the question of stepping down. I am not holding any office," Naik told Times Now channel.
"I am very happy that the Russian government has given advisory to its citizens. One has to be advised to move in a proper manner and take care not to venture out during late hours of night. If the advisory has been issued it is most welcome," he said.
On the controversy that arose from his comments in the Rajya Sabha Tuesday, he said: "It was not understood properly and has been misinterpreted. It is unfortunate."