New Delhi/Kolkata, Dec 27: Women who were protesting against the gang-rape of a 23-year-old in the national capital were "highly dented-painted", President Pranab Mukherjee's son and Congress MP Abhijit Mukherjee said disparagingly Thursday, pulling India's first family into an embarrassing whirlpool of apologies and denials.
The sexist comment made in West Bengal's Birbhum district came even as protesters in New Delhi took to the streets with renewed anger and the young victim of the horrific crime battled for life in a Singapore hospital provoked a chorus of indignation, including from his own sister Sharmishtha, who expressed "utter shock and anguish". She apologised on her brother's behalf and advised him to do the same.
Mukherjee junior, the son of the veteran politician Pranab Mukherjee who has been most circumspect in his utterances for most of his long public life, later offered an unconditional apology for his comments.
He also said if the Congress high command "asks him to step down he would do so".
But the damage was done and Abhijit was the fresh focus of ire on an issue that has united much of civil society, not just in Delhi but in all of India.
Abhijit created a stir when he said: "Those who are coming in the name of students in the rallies, sundori, sundori mahila (beautiful women), highly dented and painted.
Giving interviews in TV and showing off their children. I wonder whether they are students at all."
"What's basically happening in Delhi is something like pink revolution, which has very little connection with ground realities," said Abhijit, who was elected from the Jangipur Lok Sabha seat in Murshidabad to fill up the vacancy caused by his father's elevation to the presidency.
His comments, made on Christmas, soon became viral on the net, and criticism flew thick and fast, embarrassing the nation's first family no end.
The first voice of protest came from his younger sister, a dancer, who expressed her "utter shock and anguish. I really apologize to every women, man and every sensitive person in this country ... I am utterly shocked and only thing I can say is that I really apologize on his behalf ... I am quite surprised with what my brother said."
"Not only as a president's son, but as any sensitive man, he should not have made this kind of statement. Forget about being a political leader, it shows a certain degree of insensitivity ... My family is not like that," she said.
On whether her father would be embarrassed with Abhijit's remarks, Sharmistha said, "I am sure he will be. I can say that he also shares my view ... One thing is for sure that he (Pranab) does not agree with his (Abhijit) views. I am sure."
Under attack, Abhijit apologised for hurting peoples' sentiments and added "the sentences are withdrawn".
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan disapproved of the remarks, saying: "We have to be extremely sensitive about what we say. All of us are deeply shocked and anguished."
The Bharatiya Janata Party's Shahnawaz Hussain said Abhijit "should be restrained from making such comments, he has just become an MP."
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat termed it an "awful statement" and said he should apologise to the country. "He has insulted women of the nation. MPs and MLAs are giving such a statements; action should be taken against them. The statement shows his sick and pervert mentality."
Activist Ranjana Kumari said it was "disappointing to hear a comment from the president's son, his comments are similar to the ones we hear at a paan shop."
Kiran Shaheen, a woman protester in Jantar Mantar, termed Abhijit's comment "sexist" and said it "shows his mentality towards women".
"The word 'dent and paint' is used for a market product. That means he thinks of women as a commodity," said Shaheen, as other protesters agreed with her.
"He must be sent into jail, as he is provoking rapists to target more women," said another woman protester at Jantar Mantar, which has become the hub of anti-rape protests ever since the 23-year-old woman was brutally gang-raped in a moving bus Dec 16.