The chief of the Congress unit in Kerala, Mullappally Ramachandran, on Sunday insulted rape complainants, claiming that a woman with self-respect would kill herself instead of publicly accepting that she was sexually assaulted, The Indian Express reported. His misogynistic remarks sparked public outrage, following which Ramchandran issued an apology.

“No one can trust a woman who publicly says she got raped,” Ramachandran said, according to Times Now. “A woman with self-respect will kill herself if she is raped.” The Congress leader was speaking at an agitation launched by the Congress-led United Democratic Front in Thiruvananthapuram against the allegedly corrupt practices of the Left Democratic Front government.

Ramachandran accused Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan of resorting to “blackmail politics” by using names of women like Saritha Nair, a key accused in the Kerala solar scam of 2013. Nair had accused former chief minister and Congress leader Oommen Chandy of sexually assaulting her at his official residence in Thiruvananthapuram in 2013.

“A woman who says she was raped across the state, she’s dressed up and made to stand behind the curtain,” Ramchandra said, suggesting the state government was using Nair as a pawn. “She keeps asking when she should come out. Chief Minister, your game will not work here. This blackmail politics will not work here. The people of Kerala can understand it.

The Congress leader said that Vijayan should “drown and die” if he thought he could “bring a prostitute and make her cook stories”.

“Kerala is tired of hearing it…we can understand if a woman says she was raped once,” Ramachandran added. “Any woman with self-respect will either die or prevent being raped again. But, she keeps crying she was raped again and again all over the state.”

Nair and her partner Biju Radhakrishnan were arrested in 2013 for duping investors of lakhs of rupees after promising to install solar panels for them or offering them shares in large solar farms. After receiving the money, they would disappear. Former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy and other Congress ministers were also accused of taking large amounts of money and sexual favours as part of the scam.

The scam had made headlines during the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front rule in Kerala. In 2017, a judicial commission which probed the scam, submitted a report stating that Chandy and four of his personal staff had “assisted” Nair and her company to cheat the customers. Chandy, however, alleged that the report was “prejudicial”.

Kerala Health Minister condemns statement

Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja strongly condemned Ramachandran’s remarks about Nair and said they reflected his his mindset and opinion about women, according to The Indian Express. In June, Shailaja herself was mocked by the Congress leader who ridiculed her work and said she was fighting for the label of “Covid rani” and “Nipah rajkumari”.

Shailaja, who is also the state’s women and child development minister, said Ramachandran’s sexist remarks were “dangerous and ‘inappropriate”, considering his political stature.

She added:

“He [Ramachandran] says if women who are raped have self-respect, they will kill themselves. Is rape a woman’s fault? Are women not committing suicide because they lack self-respect? A woman subject to rape is not a criminal. The people committing the rape are the criminals. They must be punished. Women experience great physical and mental trauma. To say that they must kill themselves speaks of a person with a dangerous mind. This is completely wrong.”  

— KK Shailaja, The Indian Express

Ramachandran, a former union minister and seven-time MP, later expressed regret for his comments.

“If these remarks were characterised as being aimed at anyone in particular, I express my regret,” he claimed. “If these remarks were misrepresented as anti-women in certain quarters, it is not right. I said it only to prove the depths to which this [LDF] government has fallen.”

He later said that he was trying to explain that the current government was “engulfed by corruption”, and was looking at ways to get out of it. “If my statement was interpreted as against any specific person, I sincerely regret this,” he said, according to NDTV. “Some sections are trying to portray this as anti-women. It is not like that. Even after I said I regret this, if a controversy is created, it is with political intention.”