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Public fury over New Delhi gang-rape sparks protest across India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The gang-rape of a young woman in New Delhi has sparked public outrage across India, bringing thousands of people onto city streets in protest against authorities’ failure to ensure women’s safety.

Slideshow ( 3 images )

Sexual violence against women often goes unremarked and unreported in India, but on Friday hundreds of students and activists blockaded roads in New Delhi and marched to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, breaking through police barricades despite water-cannon fire to demand the culprits’ execution.

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The 23-year-old woman is battling for her life in hospital after she was beaten, gang-raped for almost an hour and thrown out of a moving bus on a busy street of the capital last Sunday.

Five people accused of the attack have been arrested.

“No amount of pepper spray, tazers or ‘decent dressing’ will protect women. I can’t let my little girl grow up in a society where men pounce on and rape women,” said Bharat Kapur, whose 5-year-old daughter clung to his leg as hundreds shouted with clenched fists at a protest in New Delhi.

The public verbal and physical sexual harassment of women, known as “eve-teasing”, is routine in New Delhi, which has come to be known as India’s “rape capital”.

Last week’s case - covered intensively by TV news networks - provoked uproar in both houses of parliament earlier this week, prompting the authorities to announce measures to make the capital safer for women. These include increased policing and fast-tracking court hearings for rape.

New Delhi, home to about 16 million people, has the highest number of sex crimes among India’s mega cities. Police figures show rape is reported on average every 18 hours and some other form of sexual attack every 14 hours in the capital.

Marches, demonstrations and candlelight vigils have spread during the week to cities in states from the north of the country to the south.

“The system that is supposed to protect women is not doing enough, whether it is the police or the judicial system,” said Tapas Praharaj, secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association in Odisha state, where a protest is planned for Saturday.

In Assam, hundreds of women and girls marched through the city of Guwahati, carrying placards and shouting “Hang Rapists” and “Stop Violence Against Women”.

Additional reporting by Biswajyoti Das in GUWAHATI; Editing by Ruth Pitchford