RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat Friday trigerred a raging controversy with his remark that rape was primarily prevalent in Indian cities and not in rural India, drawing condemnation from the Congress, the CPI-M and various women's organisations.
More than a fortnight after the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old Delhi woman, India continued to witness widespread protests with growing clamour for speedy justice and "stringent punishment" for attackers.
The RSS chief's remarks also put the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the defensive. The party tried to downplay it, saying his comments need to be seen in "proper perspective" and against the backdrop of the erosion of Indian values and culture.
"Such crimes (rapes) hardly take place in 'Bharat', but they occur frequently in 'India,'" said Bhagwat, addressing a gathering of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) workers in Assam's Silchar.
"You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang-rape or sex crimes. They are prevalent in some urban belts. Besides new legislations, Indian ethos and attitude towards women should be revisited in the context of ancient Indian values," he said.
The government strongly rebuffed the RSS chief's remark, with union Home Secretary R.K. Singh, saying there is no basis for making the distinction.
"There is no basis for making distinction between India and Bharat," Singh said when asked to comment on Bhagwat's remark.
Singh was speaking on the sidelines of a function 'Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System' here.
The BJP chose to put a brave face. Party spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said Bhagwat's comments "should be put in perspective... He (Bhagwat) was referring to India's sanskar and tradition and respect for women".
"He has asked for the strictest punishment for those committing crimes against women and even advocated the death sentence... Woman empowerment and woman security forms the core of RSS philosophy," he said.
The BJP has to grapple with more embarrassment due to comments of a minister in its Madhya Pradesh government. It has asked state Industry Minister Kailash Vijayvargiya to withdraw his remark that women who did not stay within their "limits" had to pay the price for it.
"The party does not approve of the remarks and dissociates itself from it. The party has asked him to kindly withdraw the remarks," Prasad told a news conference here.
Criticising Bhagwat's comment, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat said: "He does not know India or Bharat and the largest number of rapes occur in rural areas".
"The Dalits and Adivasis are the ones who mostly get raped," she told reporters.
Karat said the cases are reported in the media, and the RSS chief's comment is a "reflection of his mentality" of "turning his face away from reality".
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said the comment of Bhagwat "was a reflection of their mentality".
"Rapes can happen anywhere. Rapes should be stopped and the strictest punishment should be meted out to the perpetrators."
Digvijaya Singh was also of the opinion that the right to appeal of rape convicts should be restricted. "They should get only one right to appeal," he said.
He also said the legally defined age of "juvenile" should be lowered. "Nowadays children are more aware, they have access to TV, internet,.. so much that children of 12-14 understand all facts."
The RSS chief's controversial remark comes days after the Dec 29 death of the young Delhi woman due to grievous injuries during her torture by the rapists on board a moving bus Dec 16.
The incident has led to a spate of protests in Delhi and elsewhere in the country and demand for justice for the woman, stringent anti-rape laws and more security.