BANGALORE: An Indian minister faced a severe backlash Tuesday after he criticised women for dressing "like westerners" at a New Year's eve celebration where a mob allegedly carried out a series of sex assaults.
Although police have yet to charge anyone in connection with the violence on Saturday night in Bangalore, local media have carried testimony and photos of victims cowering from their attackers or fleeing for safety.
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Police say they are now trawling through CCTV footage to see if they can identify any of the attackers. But a minister with responsiblity for policing in the southern state of Karnataka, whose largest city is Bangalore, said the "unfortunate" attacks were a consequence of women wearing western clothing.
"A large number of youngsters gathered -- youngsters who are almost like westerners," Karnataka's Home Minister G Parameshwara told The Times Now television network, speaking in English.
"They try to copy westerners not only in mindset, but even the dressing, so some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kind of things do happen."
Parameshwara, who later claimed to have been misquoted, was widely condemned for his televised comments, with the central government's junior home minister Kiren Rijiju describing them as "irresponsible".
"We can't allow the shameful act of #MassMolestation go unpunished," he said on Twitter, adding that women's safety is a "must in a civilised society".
Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who heads India's National Commission for Women, said Parameshwara should resign over his comments.
"I want to ask this minister: are Indian men so pathetic and weak that when they see a woman in western clothes on a day of revelry, they get out of control?
"When will the Indian men learn to respect women? The minister should apologise to the women of the country and resign," Kumaramangalam told the Press Trust of India news agency.
India has been shamed by shocking levels of sexual assault against women, which came into sharp focus in December 2012 when a student was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi and later died of her injuries, leading to the official cancellation of that year's New Year celebrations.
Some of the country's most senior politicians have been accused of casual misogyny, with the leader of one political party widely condemned for brushing off the December 2012 attack by saying "boys will be boys".
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The attacks in Bangalore have drawn comparison with last year's mass sexual assaults at New Year's celebrations in the German city of Cologne, where police were also accused of losing control.
Senior Bangalore police officer Malini Krishnamoorthy told AFP no complaint had yet been filed and officers were scanning hours' worth of CCTV footage. "We have appealed to the public to come forward if they have evidence in any form," the officer added.
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