NEW DELHI — The hours-long gang-rape and near-fatal beating of a 23-year-old student on a bus in New Delhi triggered outrage and anger across the country Wednesday as Indians demanded action from authorities who have long ignored persistent violence and harassment against women.
In the streets and in Parliament, calls rose for stringent and swift punishment against those attacking women, including a proposal to make rapists eligible for the death penalty. As the calls for action grew louder, two more gang-rapes were reported, including one in which the 10-year-old victim was killed.
"I feel it is sick what is happening across the country. ... It is totally sick, and it needs to stop," said Smitha, a 32-year-old protester who goes by only one name.
Thousands of demonstrators clogged the streets in front of New Delhi's police headquarters, protested near Parliament and rallied outside a major university. Angry university students set up roadblocks across the city, causing massive traffic jams.
Hundreds rallied outside the home of the city's top elected official before police dispersed them with water cannons, a move that earned further condemnation from opposition leaders, who accused the government of being insensitive.
"We want to jolt people awake from the cozy comfort of their cars. We want people to feel the pain of what women go through every day," said Aditi Roy, a Delhi University student.
As protests raged in cities across India, at least two girls were gang-raped, with one of them killed.
Police on Wednesday fished out the body of a 10-year-old girl from a canal in Bihar state's Saharsa district. Police superintendent Ajit Kumar Satyarthi said the girl had been gang-raped and killed and her body dumped in the canal. Police were investigating and a breakthrough was expected soon, Satyarthi said.
Elsewhere, a 14-year-old schoolgirl was in critical condition in Banka district of Bihar after she was raped by four men, said Jyoti Kumar, the district education officer.
The men have been identified, but police were yet to make any arrests, Kumar said.
Meanwhile, the 23-year-old victim of the first rape lay in critical condition in the hospital with severe internal injuries, doctors said.
Police said six men raped the woman and savagely beat her and her companion with iron rods on a bus driving around the city — passing through several police checkpoints — before stripping them and dumping them on the side of the road Sunday night.
Delhi police chief Neeraj Kumar said four men have been arrested and a search was underway for the other two.
Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress Party, visited the victim, promised swift action against the perpetrators and called for police to be trained to deal with crimes against women.
"It is a matter of shame that these incidents recur with painful regularity and that our daughters, sisters and mothers are unsafe in our capital city," she wrote in a letter to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.
In New Delhi and across India, the outpouring of anger is unusual in a country where attacks against women are rarely prosecuted. The Times of India newspaper dedicated four pages to the rape Wednesday, demanding an example be made of the rapists, while television stations debated the nation's treatment of its women.
Opposition lawmakers shouted slogans and protested outside Parliament and called for making rape a capital crime. Cutting across party affiliations, lawmakers demanded the government announce a plan to safeguard women in the city.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told Parliament he had ordered increased police patrols on the streets, especially at night.
Shinde said the government has introduced bills to increase the punishment for rapes and other crimes against women, but they are bogged down in Parliament.
Analysts and protesters said the upsurge of anger was chiefly due to increasing incidents of crime against women and the seeming inability of authorities to protect them.
"We have been screaming ourselves hoarse demanding greater security for women and girls. But the government, the police, and others responsible for public security have ignored the daily violence that women face," said Sehba Farooqui, a women's rights activist.