West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee has created a controversy by making sexist remarks on Thursday during a protest in Kolkata by primary school teachers demanding pay raise, Times Now reported.

“So many women teachers are suffering from ‘stree rog [gynaecological problems]’ that I am terrified,” Chatterjee said at a meeting with the state Trinamool Congress primary teachers’ committe as the audience erupted in laughter. The minister also spoke about the work done in the education sector by the Trinamool Congress government.

Speaking about the facilities provided to government school teachers, Chatterjee said in case a teacher is not well, he or she can apply for a mutual transfer. “When it was declared that those unwell would be transferred, immediately a lot of teachers started feeling unwell,” The Indian Express quoted him as saying. “What is this? If it’s a genuine problem, you should definitely raise a request.”

Chatterjee said he had told the protesting women teachers that those belonging to a specific district should be transferred there. The education minister said that if need arises, they can be shifted to a neighbouring district.

Chatteree’s comments drew criticism from Union Minister of State for Women and Child Development Debashree Chowdhury. “This is laughable,” The Indian Express quoted her as saying. “There were quite a few female teachers present at the meeting and such a remark is not acceptable. Saying such is this completely unnecessary. As a minister in such a big state, he should have introspected before something like this.”

The West Bengal government has proposed an increase in the teachers’ grade pay but that has not satisfied the protestors, who have been on a hunger strike for 13 days now, PTI reported.

Chatterjee said the government was ready to increase the grade pay from the current Rs 2,600- Rs 2,700 to Rs 3,600. The education minister has also appealed to the teachers to call off the hunger strike. He asked them to make sure “they are not used as pawns by certain political forces”.

“We are ready to effect a hike in grade pay to Rs 3,600 and ask the finance department to put the hike into effect immediately,” Chatterjee said after the meeting. “Teachers of primary section will be entitled to time-bound promotion to upper primary level.”

The demonstrators have claimed that their counterparts in other states receive a consolidated salary between Rs 9,300 and Rs 34,800. “We cannot call off the fast at this stage,” PTI quoted Pritha Biswas, the spokesperson of the protesting teachers. “The government is not fulfilling the demand for effecting a hike in our salary on a par with primary teachers elsewhere in country.”