Anna Hazare found himself on the wrong side of women activists and medical practitioners on Tuesday after using a colloquialism referring to childless women in his pitch for a strong lokpal bill.
At one point in his speech at the Bandra-Kurla Complex ground, Hazare said, "Banjh kya jaane prasuti vedana (what would an infertile woman know about labour pain)?"
Activists said the remark was insensate and smacked of sexist mentality.
Lawyer and women rights activist Flavia Agnes strongly opposed Hazare's remark.
"Anna can't be anti-women, and saying this from a public platform is very insensitive. He might have used other similes or anecdotes to make his point."
Agnes said protests by women's organisations had not deterred so-called activists and social reformers from being sexist and insensitive to women. She said there would have been childless women in the audience at the ground and among families watching live telecast of Hazare's speech.
Dr Duru Shah, who treats infertility, said such remarks could disturb childless women, who even otherwise go through a lot of mental trauma.
"But I don't hold this against Anna because he might have said this to explain the pain he has gone through during a series of agitations."
Rajani Patil, a Congress leader who works for saving the girl child in central Maharashtra, said she was shocked to hear Hazare's remark.
"Hazare says he's a Gandhian, so I expect him to be as sensitive as his idol (Mahatma) Gandhi."
India Against Corruption media coordinator Preeti Sharma Menon did not respond to a text message seeking comment on Hazare's remark.