New Delhi: After controversially suggesting that foreigners visiting India should avoid wearing skirts or going out alone at night, Union Minister Mahesh Sharma clarified today that he was referring only to religious places, and that he spoke out of "concern".
"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. Different countries issue advisories from time to time, but I never said change anyone's way of dressing," Mr Sharma, the Minister of State for Culture, said to reporters on Monday.
Arvind Kejriwal, one of the government's sharpest critics, didn't buy it. The Delhi Chief Minister tweeted a dig at the minister.
On Sunday, Mr Sharma was responding to questions on the government's steps for tourist safety in popular destinations like Agra when he spoke about the list of dos and don'ts for visitors to India.
Women had greater freedom to wear clothes of their choice in Vedic times than they have in Modi times— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) August 29, 2016
"When tourists arrive at the airport, they will be given a welcome kit which has a card with dos and don'ts... it has instructions like if they are in small areas, they should not roam around alone at night or wear skirts," said the 55-year-old.
India, the minister said, is a "cultural country" and "we have a different dress code for temples. Kindly keep that in mind while dressing up."
As reporters latched on to his "no skirt" comment and questioned whether he was recommending a dress code, Mr Sharma demurred: "We have no right to try and change anyone's clothes or way of thinking."
Despite his attempts at an explanation, Mr Sharma didn't escape the expected storm on Twitter, where he was trending on Monday morning.
Mr Sharma, no stranger to controversy, had said last year that girls wanting a night out was "not acceptable in India".