German prof apologizes for comments about rape in India to rejected candidate

India has come under fire after alarming reports about rape.

Story highlights

  • Professor notes she has Indians in her class and interning at her laboratory
  • An online post suggests a German professor rejected a student over India's "rape problem"
  • Professor denies this but does apologize for anyone "hurt" by her remarks on Indian society

New Delhi, India (CNN)Do not generalize India as a country of rapists.

That was the firm message from the German ambassador in New Delhi after a professor back home was accused of turning down a male Indian student's application for an internship due to the South Asian nation's "rape problem."
    Professor Annette Beck-Sickinger never did such a thing, according to her and the University of Leipzig. The university points out four of her 30 students and two of her laboratory interns come from India; while it wasn't clear how many of them were men, the university said 29 of its 44 Indian students total are male.
    Still, Beck-Sickinger has admitted making a mistake by engaging the rejected intern candidate with talk about rape in Indian society and how the issue spurred "many (other) female professors in Germany (have) decided to no longer accept male Indian students for these reasons."
    "It was never my intention to make a defamatory comment about Indian society," she said, according to a statement posted on the website of the University of Leipzig. "I do not have anything against Indian students -- on the contrary. I sincerely apologize to anyone whose feelings I may have hurt."
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    Professor says email was doctored

    The firestorm began with a recent post on the social-networking site Quora. It featured what appeared to be screenshots of email excerpts involving someone in the University of Leipzig's biochemistry department. They fell under this provocative headline: "What should an Indian male student do if he is denied an internship opportunity on the basis of India being projected as an unsafe country for women?"
    The post didn't identify Beck-Sickinger, blacking out the name of the emails' author. But it did lead with this statement that was later linked to her: "Unfortunately I don't accept any Indian male students for internships. We hear a lot about the rape problem in India which I cannot support. I have many female students in the group, so I think this attitude is something I cannot support."
    The thing is, Beck-Sickinger says she "never wrote" such a message, claiming this email was "put together from individual segments taken from different mails."
    "I do not reject students because of reasons of race or gender, " she added. "I am by no means racist or xenophobic in any way."
    Here's what the University of Leipzig says did happen: The professor told the candidate "the laboratories are fully occupied." The Indian applicant "didn't accept" this rejection, the university says, and went back-and-forth with Beck-Sickinger over email.
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    During that exchange, Beck-Sickinger wrote things that she later regretted -- excerpts of which were posted to Quora and the university acknowledged as legitimate.
    Speaking about how Indian men might be stereotyped due to reports about alarming instances of rape in their native country, she said, "I fully agree that this is a generalization and may not apply to individuals. However it is also unbelievable that the Indian society is not able to solve this problem for many years now."
    Beck-Sickinger referred to regular reports of "multi-rape crimes" and abuse of female tourists that, "for me ... demonstrate the attitude of society towards (women)." Such incidents have moved other female professors to reject male Indians "and currently other European female associations are joining."
    "Of course we cannot change or influence the Indian society," she added, "but only take our consequences here in Europe."

    German ambassador scolds professor for 'oversimplifying'

    The idea that the professor wouldn't accept male Indians for internships -- as reported by Quora and denied by the University of Leipzig -- riled up some in India, a number of whom wrote on the Quora thread.
    One user, identified as Sas Vijay, said, "Don't leave this issue. It is a serious fault to generalize people on such grounds. File a complaint."
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    Another user, posting as Hemanth Sriteja, wrote, "I don't wanna come to an era where I should say 'Hii (sic), I'm from India, I'm not a rapist."
    One person echoing that view publicly is Michael Steiner, Germany's ambassador to India.
    "Your oversimplifying and discriminating generalization is an offense to these women and men ardently committed to furthering women empowerment in India; and it is an offense to millions of law-abiding, tolerant, open-minded and hard-working Indians," Steiner wrote Monday in a letter posted on the embassy website.
    "Let's be clear: India is not a country of rapists."
    The ambassador urged Beck-Sickinger "to learn more about the diverse, dynamic and fascinating country and the many welcoming and open-minded people of India so that you could correct a simplistic image, which — in my opinion — is particularly unsuitable for a professor and teacher."