As India's western state of Maharashtra reels from the worst drought in over four decades and millions of people face the risk of hunger, a top official has sparked outrage with a crass, insensitive joke that he should urinate in the region's empty dams to solve water shortages.
Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and former irrigation minister, referred in a speech last weekend to a poor drought-hit farmer who had been on hunger strike for almost two months to demand more water.
"He has been fasting for the last 55 days. If there is no water in the dam, how can we release it? Should we urinate into it? If there is no water to drink, even urination is not possible," Pawar told the gathering, who responded with much laughter.
Dubbed as "Urine-Gate" by some sections of the media, Pawar's controversial comments have been played and replayed on India's national news channels over the past week, sparking a barrage of criticism from civil society groups and opposition politicians who are demanding he resign over the remarks.
Aid workers say almost one-fifth of Maharashtra, India's third-largest state and one of the biggest producers of sugar, pulses, cotton and soybeans, has been declared drought-hit. Dams are empty, farmland is parched and livestock are emaciated.