New Delhi: Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Friday expressed regret after his remark that the gangrape of a 23-year-old student in a Delhi bus in December 2012 was a “small incident" provoked outrage.

“I regret that the statement has been construed, or some words that I have used have been construed, as insensitive. That was never my intention," Jaitley said. “I am very sensitive to these issues myself and there is no question of trivialising any crime or any particular incident. I had not referred to any particular incident."

Jaitley clarified he had made a general statement on the ways in which crime and law and order problems can hurt tourism.

The student was raped and tortured by five men and a teenager on board a bus in Delhi on 16 December 2012. The incident sparked outrage nationwide, and street protests and candlelight vigils in Delhi, leading to tougher laws to fight crimes against women. She died two weeks later in a hospital in Singapore of injuries inflicted on her.

Four men have been sentenced to death while a fifth suspect committed suicide. The teenager was remanded to a judicial reform centre.

On Thursday, Jaitley said at the annual state tourism ministers’ conference that “one small incident of rape in Delhi, advertised the world over, was enough to cost India billions of dollars in terms of global tourism."

The women’s wing of the Congress, which is now in the opposition, demonstrated outside the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office in the capital and burnt an effigy of the minister in protest against his remarks.

“He (Jaitley) should apologise for this and extend his apology to the entire female fraternity of the country for this insult," Mahila Congress Committee president Shobha Oza told reporters.

The victim’s mother said the minister’s remarks had hurt her greatly.

“When they needed votes, they would take my daughter’s name and that such a big incident had happened," she said. “But once they got into power, they call it a small thing."

Reuters contributed to this story.