Bihar Chief Minister Nitish on Wednesday apologised for his remarks about how educated women can ensure birth control through the withdrawal method, reported PTI.

This was after his remarks attracted a sharp reaction from the National Commission for Women on Tuesday who sought an apology from Kumar.

The Janata Dal (United) leader made the comments at the state Assembly explaining why Bihar’s fertility rate has dropped from 4.2% to 2.9%. Kumar said that an uneducated married woman often fails to adopt birth control methods and that leads to more children. But an educated woman can prevent getting pregnant through the withdrawal method, he said.

The chief minister was telling the Assembly that his policies that are aimed at improving education among girls have also helped with population control. However, he faced backlash from the women’s panel who described his comments as “crass”.

On Wednesday, Kumar told reporters that he had made the comments in earnest after he learnt that education played a key role in bringing down the fertility rate and curbing population growth.

“We found that the fertility rate among couples who have studied till Class 10, was 2% in Bihar,” Kumar told reporters. “The national fertility rate of a married woman who continued her studies after Class 10 dropped to 1.7% and the same was 1.6% for Bihar. So I was delighted to learn this and you know we have worked towards women’s education and allocated a budget for this.”

However, Kumar said that he was only trying to encourage education among women as it also helps in reducing population.

“But if my comment on couples sleeping together at night is being criticised I apologise for it,” Kumar said. “If it was wrong of me to say so I am apologising for it and taking back my words.”

After videos of Kumar’s speech on Tuesday were widely shared on social media, the National Commission for Women said that it was insensitive towards women.

“If a leader can make such comments so openly in a democracy, one can only imagine the horror the state must be enduring under his leadership,” National Commission for Women chairperson Rekha Sharma said. “We stand firm against such behaviour and call for accountability.”

The organisation also said that Kumar’s remarks are regressive and insensitive to women’s rights and choices. “Bihar’s chief minister should issue an apology to women across the country for these deeply offensive remarks,” it said in a tweet.

Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Swati Maliwal also sought an apology saying that Kumar used “disgraceful language” while addressing the Assembly.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticised the Bihar chief minister’s remarks during a rally in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, PTI reported.

“Yesterday, one of the INDIA alliance’s big leaders who is holding the bloc’s flag high and playing different games to unseat the present government [at the Centre] used a language, which no one can even think of in a state assembly in the presence of mothers and sisters... he did not even feel ashamed of it,” Modi said. “Those having such a vision, how can they keep your honour and respect? How low will they stoop?”

The Bharatiya Janata Party had also shared Kumar’s speech on social media platforms to allege that the politician is “shameless” and has a “vulgar” mindset. The party said that the remarks reflect the Opposition INDIA’s bloc’s mentality.

However, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav said that Kumar was only talking about awareness regarding sex education among the population, reported ANI.

“Whatever the chief minister was saying was about sex education,” Yadav said. “People become hesitant over this topic, but these are taught in schools – in Science, Biology. Children learn this. He said what needs to be done practically to control the population. This should not be taken in a wrong manner, but as sex education.”