Indians already angry over the gang rape and death of a young woman in New Delhi last month have turned their ire on popular guru Asaram Bapu for blaming her for her own misfortunes.
Groups across the political spectrum in India have criticized Asaram, a spiritual leader, who said the 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey share the blame for her Dec. 16 rape aboard a moving bus, and her subsequent death on Dec. 29.
"[Pandey] should have taken God's name and could have held the hand of one of the men and said I consider you my brother and should have said to the other two 'Brother I am helpless, you are my brother, my religious brother'," Bapu told his followers, according to Indian Express.
"She should have taken God's name and held their hands and feet...then the misconduct wouldn't have happened." he said. "The accused were drunk. If the girl had chanted hymns to Goddess Saraswati and to Guru Diksha then she wouldn't have entered the bus..."
Asaram also claimed that an "anti-man" campaign was being waged by "vested interests" to take advantage of the tragedy for their own gain.
The Indian People's Party (BJP), a key opposition party, condemned Asaram's remarks.
"His statement is regrettable, deeply disturbing and painful," said Ravishankar Prasad, a spokesperson for the Hindu nationalist BJP. "For him to make the statement in relation to a crime which has shocked the conscience of the country is not only unfortunate but deeply regrettable."
Sudha Sundaraman, speaking to the Times of India for the All India Democratic Woman's Association, also condemned Asaram's comments.
"The statements made are highly objectionable, regressive and anti-women," she said. "Such people should be called to question. This is further victimization of the victim and deeply insulting to women."
A spokeswoman for the guru said he had been misquoted. "He just asked his woman followers to avoid such situation," Niam Dubey told Asian News International. "He was only suggesting that women should try their level-best to come out from such situation using diplomatic ways."
But activist lawyer Vrinda Grover dismissed the idea that prayer could have saved Pandey.
"What he is saying is that women must beg for her life and not fight back," Grover told the Times. "Reports said that the victim expressed a will to live. That is a huge paradigm shift from those victims of sexual assault who would like to kill themselves out of shame. People like him are scared that women are now asserting themselves."
Five men are accused in the gang rape, murder and kidnapping of Pandey and her male companion, who survived the attack on Dec. 16. A sixth man, who claims to be 17 years old, will be tried as a juvenile if his age is confirmed.
Pandey died in a Singapore hospital, after she was transferred there in the hope advanced treatment would save her life.