Indian tourism minister advises foreign visitors to not wear skirts "for their own safety"

Mahesh Sharma also advised women travelling in India to photograph the number plate of every car they enter

India,  Mahesh Sharma

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India [Flickr/Julien]

The tourism minister of India is advising any female visitors to the country to not wear skirts or dresses.

Speaking to the media in Agra, where the world famous Taj Mahal is located, Mahesh Sharma told women to not walk alone at night “for their own safety”, and to always take photographs of the number plate of any cars they might be travelling in during their time in India.

Sharma’s advice has caused controversy in India, which has become infamous around the world in recent years after reports of several high-profile gang rapes and attacks on women have been discussed in the media.

The Indian government is hoping to tackle the reputational damage and improve safety by providing all foreign nationals arriving at Indian airports with a welcome kit. The kit, which has been handed out since last year, includes safety advice for women to follow.

“In the kit they are given dos and don’ts. These are very small things like, they should not venture out alone at night in small places, or wear skirts, and they should click the photo of the vehicle number plate whenever they travel and send it to friends.

“For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts,” Sharma said. “Indian culture is different from the western.”

Sharma responded to critics’ comments that he was essentially imposing a dress code on women by saying: “I am a father of two daughters... I would never tell women what they should wear or not.”

But advocates for gender equality have condemned the official ministerial statement.

“It was very stupid, not a fully thought-through statement,” Ranjana Kumari, the director of gender equality thinktank the Centre for Social Research, told The Guardian. “The Minister doesn’t realise the implications of such irresponsible statements.”

Kumari added that the minister’s words played into the “syndrome of blaming women”.

“But the problem is men and boys in India,” she said. “It’s important for [Mr Sharma] to have said how to punish the perpetrators of crime and stop the nonsense of ogling women and following them.”

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