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India's 'rape capital' erupts in outrage after gang rape on bus

Emergency debate held in parliament amid criticism of police attitudes and response to sex crimes, as victim fights for her life in hospital.

Women at a protest condemn police and authorities over the gang rape of a young woman on a city bus on Sunday.
Women at a protest condemn police and authorities over the gang rape of a young woman on a city bus on Sunday.

NEW DELHI // Outrage over the rape of a young woman by a gang of men who took a school bus for a joyride in New Delhi sparked an uproar in parliament yesterday, protests in the streets and a demand for the death penalty from the city's police chief.

The 22-year-old woman, a physiotherapy student, was travelling with a male friend on Sunday night when they were beaten, tortured, stripped and thrown out on to the street by a group of men who were on the bus.

The woman was raped by at least five men, the Delhi police commissioner said.

She was in a critical condition in hospital yesterday after suffering severe trauma that doctors said was caused when she was beaten with a blunt object.

Her friend, a 28-year-old software engineer, was also being treated in hospital for multiple injuries.

"We will seek the most severe punishment of life imprisonment for the culprits and we will send a proposal to the government for the death sentence for rapists," Neeraj Kumar, Delhi's police chief, said yesterday.

The case prompted an emergency debate in parliament and made the front pages of all the newspapers. The Mail Today headline read "Savagery shames city".

Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, demanded capital punishment for the accused.

She said the victims had been travelling home at about 9.30pm after watching a film at a nearby cinema.

"If a woman is not safe even then, then it is a shame," said Ms Swaraj. "If this girl survives, she will be living dead. These people should be given capital punishment."

Girija Vyas, a member of parliament from the ruling Congress party, called the incident "a huge security lapse".

"When a woman gets murdered, she gets killed once," she said. "But when she gets raped, she dies again and again."

Mr Kumar said the attackers had taken the off-duty school bus for a joyride. The private bus, which has tinted glass and curtains on the windows and is used to ferry schoolchildren, pulled up at a bus stop where the couple were waiting and the men offered to take the student and her companion home for a regular fare.

The police chief said the bus driver, his brother and two of their friends, a gym instructor and a fruit seller, have been arrested. Police are still hunting for two other men.

"This is a horrible act," said Shreshtha Rai, a 19-year-old college student in New Delhi, who joined protesters who were blocking traffic at the junction in the south of the city where the couple boarded the bus. Others demonstrated outside a nearby police station.

"Every day, there is a case," she added. "And it is understood that it is the woman's fault. We must have asked for it, through our attitude, clothing sense, even the way we walk. What about the men who stalk and harass women?"

The attack sparked renewed calls for greater security for women in New Delhi, which has been called the rape capital of the country. There have been 635 registered cases of rape this year. In 2011, there were 568 cases in the capital, compared with 218 in Mumbai.

"More women are out on the streets but that is not an excuse," said Kirti Singh, a lawyer and women's activist in New Delhi. The sentence for gang rape ranges from a minimum of 10 years to life in jail.

"We've asked for rape laws to be more stringent but the way rape is defined in Indian law can be problematic," said Ms Singh. "The laws are there but the problem is enforcement. There is no policing to maintain the law."

Ms Singh also said that the way police treat rape was also a barrier to effective policing. Police do not take complaints seriously, or they question the women in a way that makes them uncomfortable, she said.

In some cases, the investigation takes so long - more than 90 days - that the accused can post bail, leaving the victims feeling threatened.

"People feel they can do anything and get away with it, which is why we are seeing such horrendous acts," said Ms Singh. "At least in this case, with all the attention, we are hoping for swift justice."

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press