India’s tourism minister has stirred up intense controversy after saying foreign women should not wear skirts while visiting the country “for their own safety.”
On Sunday, India’s minister of tourism and culture, Mahesh Sharma, appeared at a media event discussing a newly created welcome kit that included safety information for female travelers visiting India.
“In that kit they are given dos and don’ts,” he said. “These are very small things like, they should not venture out alone at night in small places, or wear skirts, and they should click the photo of the vehicle number plate whenever they travel and send it to friends.”
According to The Guardian, when asked further about do’s and don’t for female travelers Sharma added:
“For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts… Indian culture is different from the western.”
Violence against women in India has caused increasing alarm since the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old Indian physiotherapy student in New Delhi in 2012. Several foreign tourists also have been targeted in attacks that often get international attention, although Indian women are assaulted far more frequently. Citing recent figures, AFP reported that 36,735 rapes were reported across India in 2014.
The violence has been linked to a decline in female tourism throughout India.
The so-called welcome kit, geared towards women visiting India, was created in response to concerns about tourist safety.
Sharma’s comments created quite the controversy on social media, where government critics sharply criticized the minister.
On Monday, Sharma clarified his remarks, saying he was only suggesting women cover up when visiting religious places.
“I am a father of two daughters… I would never tell women what they should wear or not. Our culture is Atithi Devobhava (the guest is almost like God). Such a ban is unimaginable, but it is not a crime to be cautious,” he said, according to local media.
This isn’t the first time Sharma has come under fire for his comments. Last year, he declared that women should not go out at night because “it’s not part of Indian culture.”
It’s important to note that the Government of Canada website does state that visitors to India should “dress conservatively, behave discreetly and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.”
The webpage explaining travel advisories for India does also link to “Her own way – a women’s safe-travel guide,” created by the Canadian government.
“A risk assessment should address your concerns as a female traveller, including safety and security, health conditions, the political and economic environment, local laws, customs, and cultural norms – including the role of women – in your potential host country,” reads the website.
Under the section regarding coping with sexual harassment, the website also states, “Take your cue from local women. If they don’t sit in cafés or parks alone or wear tank tops or miniskirts, neither should you. Avoid wearing form-fitting clothing that may be considered provocative.”