The lawyer representing three of the men charged with the gang rape and murder of a medical student aboard a moving bus in New Delhi has blamed the victims for the assault, saying he has never heard of a "respected lady" being raped in India.
Manohar Lal Sharma's comments come as Indians have reacted with outrage to the opinions of politicians and a religious preacher who have accused westernized women of inviting sexual assaults. Sharma said the male companion of the murdered 23- year-old was "wholly responsible" for the incident as the unmarried couple should not have been on the streets at night.
"Until today I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady," Sharma said in an interview at a cafe outside the Supreme Court in India's capital. "Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect."
Sharma's comments highlight frequently aired attitudes toward women in India. Activists say reporting of sex crimes and police investigations of rape are hindered by a tendency to blame the victim for not following the traditional, conservative social roles ascribed to women.
"This is the mentality which most Indian men are suffering from unfortunately," said Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research. "That is the mindset that has been perpetrating this crime because they justify it indirectly, you asked for it so it is your responsibility."
'Chant God's name'
A spiritual guru, Asharam, sparked an outcry earlier this week when he said the New Delhi victim was equally responsible and should have "chanted God's name and fallen at the feet of the attackers" to stop the assault.
Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the pro-Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that underpins the country's main opposition political party, said rapes only occur in Indian cities, not in its villages, because women there adopt western lifestyles.
Sharma said the man and woman should not have been traveling back late in the evening and making their journey on public transport. He also said it was the man's responsibility to protect the woman and that he had failed in his duty.
"The man has broken the faith of the woman," Sharma said Wednesday. "If a man fails to protect the woman, or she has a single doubt about his failure to protect her, the woman will never go with that man."
Sharma, 56, a Supreme Court lawyer for the last two decades, says that his clients are innocent.