Union Minister later apologises for the statement

Union Minister Farooq Abdullah’s remark that one could not even hire women as personal secretaries nowadays, for it involved the possibility of one facing complaints of sexual harassment and landing up in jail stirred up a huge controversy, forcing him to apologise within hours on Friday.

“These days the situation is such that one is scared of talking to girls. We feel that a lady should not be hired as a secretary. God forbid, if there is some complaint we may land in jail,” Dr. Abdullah told journalists here earlier in the morning. He was responding to queries about sexual assault cases involving dignitaries. He said even talking to women had become difficult now.

Asked whether he was blaming the fair sex, he said, “No, no, I am not blaming the girl. I am blaming society itself. The society has reached a stage where complaints are coming from the other side.”

“Rapes should not take place. The number of girls has gone down. When a child is born we pray for a son. When a girl is born we cry,” said Dr. Abdullah. Dr. Abdullah’s remarks came in for sharp criticism from women’s groups, his colleagues in the government and his own son and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who wanted an apology from his father.

As his remarks threatened to snowball into a huge controversy, Dr. Abdullah offered an apology. “People are misunderstanding things and they are misquoting things in many ways,” he said, holding media responsible. “Arre yaar why are you trying to trap me? Your media also can't do anything else. Sometimes you trap Modi, sometimes you're trapping someone else. Now do you want to catch the women also? Why don't you send all the men to jail directly,” he said.

“I feel terribly sorry that people are misunderstanding things and they are misquoting things in many ways. There is no question of anything to derogate. I feel time has come they must have justice and they must have 33 per cent reservation in Parliament as quickly as possible,” he said. “If something goes wrong, I am sorry for that. I never meant it in the manner that people have taken it,” he added.

However, by the time Dr. Abdullah’s apology came damage had been done with his Cabinet colleague and Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath saying: “In our Constitution, both genders have equal rights but so far, women have been living in fear. If someone thinks so, that mindset should be changed.”

BJP leader Smriti Irani said it was “inappropriate” for a senior Minister to make a statement indicating that “women can be hired and called upon favourably and they can be demeaned at workplace.”

She said people should understand that it was a very sensitive issue and should not give an indication “that if a woman speaks about her rights at work place that is a sign of danger.”

Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat said “a statement like this implies that women should not make complaints against sexual harassment and if she does, she will be unemployable.”

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