Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday urged people to pledge not to do anything that lowers the dignity of women, saying a mentality to insult them in speech and conduct has crept in.
Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 76th Independence Day, PM Modi said respect for women is an important pillar of India's growth and stressed the need to extend support to 'nari shakti' to ensure the country's swift progress.
But the remarks led the opposition parties and activists to question the Modi government over the on-ground implementation of various policies for women.
"What I wish to share is that it hurts me to say that we have witnessed a perversion in our day-to-day speaking, behaviour. We have been casually using language and words that are insulting to women," he said.
"Can we not pledge to get rid of everything in our behaviour, culture and everyday life that humiliates and demeans women? " the prime minister said.
"Women's pride is going to be a huge asset in fulfilling the dreams of the nation. I see this power and therefore I am insistent on it." PM Modi said the power of women can be seen across professions, including in the field of law and its enforcement.
"Look at the public representatives in the rural area. Our 'nari shakti' is devotedly engaged in solving the problems of our villages.
"Look at the field of knowledge or science, the 'nari shakti' of our country is visible right at the top. Even in the police force, our 'nari shakti' is taking the responsibility of protecting the people," he said.
PM Modi said he could foresee a manifold increase in the stake of women in public life in the next 25 years, adding their potential was beyond assessment.
"Everything is beyond your parameters. The more we pay attention to this aspect, the more opportunities and facilities we provide to our daughters, they will return us much more than that," he said.
"They will take the country to a new height. If the considerable efforts of our 'nari shakti' are added to the hard work that is required to fulfil the dreams in this Amrit Kaal, then it will take less hard work and our time taken will also be reduced. Our dreams will be more intense, vivacious and resplendent," he said.
Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, in a tweet, praised the prime minister's "sensitivity" on the matter.
"Making an emotional appeal to protect the dignity and honor of women from the ramparts of the Red Fort shows the sensitivity of PM @narendramodi ji. Every woman of the country is committed to fulfil every dream to make a developed India on the strength of her strength and potential," Irani tweeted.
Speaking on the significance of a united nation, PM Modi said India has much to teach the world on the concept of unity which begins with the family structure.
Gender equality is the key to a united India, he said, adding that without equal importance to sons and daughters in a family structure, the idea of unity will be lost.
"We should celebrate the diversity of India.
" At home too, the roots of unity are sowed when both the son and the daughter are equal. If they are not, the mantra of unity cannot reverberate. I hope we can get rid of this attitude of upper-lower or mine-others," PM Modi said.
"Gender equality is a crucial parameter of unity," the prime minister said.
He said citizens are proud of the strength of the Indian women such as Rani Laxmibai, Jhalkari Bai, Rani Chennamma, and Begum Hazrat Mahal. Indian women symbolise sacrifice and struggle, Modi added.
Women rights activists, however, were less than impressed with the speech and said a lot was lacking in the actual implementation of schemes for women on the ground.
Akancha Srivastava - social activist and founder of Akancha Srivastava Foundation, a non-profit organisation that works towards cyber safety knowledge- said the first and foremost issue is women's safety and education.
She asked, "Where are the practical safety measures that were to be implemented with the Nirbhaya Fund".
All India Progressive Women's Association member Kavita Krishnan pointed out that the gender budget decreased from 0.71 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product(GDP) of the revised estimates for 2021-22 to 0.66 per cent in the budgetary estimates for 2022-2023.
Yogita Bhayana, a women's rights activist who heads People Against Rape in India', said 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao' was also spoken about from the ramparts of Red Fort "but we hear about atrocities against women every day".
Leaders of opposition parties asked PM Modi to first look at his party's attitude towards women.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) Member of Parliament (MP) Derek O' Brien took a swipe at PM Modi and reminded him of the "Didi o Didi" comment made by him on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during an election rally in the state.
Congress' Pawan Khera posted a video compilation of PM Modi's remarks on women including those on Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury in Rajya Sabha over her laughter, on Mamata Banerjee and the "50-crore girlfriend" barb about Congress leader Shashi Tharoor's wife Sunanda Pushkar.
"If anyone needs the most to take a pledge to respect women, then it is this person," wrote Pawan Khera referring to the video.
Shiv Sena leader and Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said that PM Modi's words did not match the actions on the ground.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)