By Sruthi Gottipati
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Rights campaigners on Wednesday demanded that the head of India's top investigation agency resign after he said during a panel discussion on sports ethics that "if you can't prevent rape, you enjoy it".
Ranjit Sinha, director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which tackles corruption and other high-profile cases, apologized for the remark, but it was roundly criticized.
The issue of sexual violence has been in the spotlight since the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a Delhi bus last year sparked nationwide protests.
"Do we have the enforcement?" Sinha said at a CBI conference in New Delhi on Tuesday about whether sports betting should be legalized. "It is very easy to say that if you can't enforce it, it's like saying if you can't prevent rape, you enjoy it."
Sinha sought to explain his comments, which civil campaigners and opposition politicians said risked trivializing rape and raised questions over the CBI's ability to investigate serious sexual assault cases.
"I regret any hurt caused," Sinha said in a statement after the original remarks dominated news channels. "I gave my opinion that betting should be legalized and that if the laws cannot be enforced, that does not mean that laws should not be made.
"This is as erroneous as saying that if rape is inevitable one should lie back and enjoy it. I reiterate my deep sense of regard and respect for women and my commitment for gender issues."
Kavita Krishnan, an activist with the All India Progressive Women's Association, called for Sinha to step down.
"How can he remain the head of India's premier investigation agency?" she said.
Nirmala Sitharaman, spokeswoman for the main opposition group, the Bharatiya Janata Party, called the remarks "shocking".
"Wonder if his colleagues in the Bureau, his family and well-wishers approve of his view," she wrote on Twitter.
There were more than 24,000 reported rapes in India in 2011, but activists say the real number is many times higher.
Following a public outcry over the Delhi attack, India introduced tougher rape laws in March, which include the death penalty for repeat offenders and for those whose victims are left in a "vegetative state".
The row comes at a bad time for the CBI, widely accused of acting as a tool for the government to pressure political rivals. Its very legality is also being challenged in court.
The CBI, which is similar to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States, was set up to fight corruption by government employees, but also investigates other important cases, including murder, rape and terrorism.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White and Ron Popeski)