BELLARY, India — Anger over sexual assaults erupted on the streets of the Indian capital once again Saturday, as hundreds of people protested the rape of a 5-year-old girl and continuing violence against women and children despite strengthened rape laws.
Police arrested a suspect in the case, Manoj Kumar, 22, who is accused of locking up the girl for 40 hours in his rented room in New Delhi and brutally raping her. The girl had gone missing Monday, when she was playing in her working-class neighborhood in the eastern part of the city.
The girl is in stable condition and alert, according to a medical bulletin released Saturday.
As details of the incident emerged, protesters gathered outside the hospital where the girl is being treated and outside police headquarters and the homes of politicians, demanding the removal of the city’s police chief.
The anger was fueled by comments the girl’s father made to reporters Friday in which he accused police of offering him money for keeping quiet about the incident.
“Where is the police chief’s moral conscience? Why is he not quitting?” Usha Saxena, who lives in a Delhi suburb, said in a phone interview. She and her teenage daughter joined the protest outside police headquarters Saturday.
The demonstrations come four months after the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a moving bus sparked national outrage and a push for stricter laws. The suspects in that case are on trial in a New Delhi court.
“Delhi shamed again,” said a headline in the Hindustan Times newspaper.
Activists have called New Delhi the “rape capital” of India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the city reported the highest number of crimes against children in 2011.
According to the Asian Center for Human Rights, 48,338 cases of child rape were recorded in India from 2001 to 2011. The group said that during that period, reported incidents of child rape increased 336 percent but that they were “only the tip of the iceberg” because a large majority of cases are not reported to the police.
Television images showed doctors wheeling the girl into the hospital on a bed with a green doll placed next to her. Some television channels gave her Hindi names meaning “doll,” ”the innocent” and “the goddess.”
Some protesters sat on the ground next to a doll and marigolds. Others held candlelight vigils after sunset. In several northern Indian cities, prayer ceremonies were conducted for the girl’s quick recovery.
“This reflects a mental sickness which has crept in society,” Sushma Swaraj, a lawmaker, told reporters in New Delhi after visiting the hospital. “A strong law is not sufficient. They need a shock treatment. They should be hanged to send a strong message to other people.”
While some protesters in New Delhi echoed Swaraj’s sentiment for capital punishment, others said their protest was intended to encourage a bigger change underway in India.
“The parents of this little girl came out and exposed the police officer’s offer of bribe,” Saxena said. “To me, this is a big positive change that says, ‘I am not going to back off and keep quiet.’ People are saying, ‘This has happened to me, and this is how the police are treating me.’ My protest here is not about stoning or hanging the rapists. It is about supporting those who have found the courage to report such crimes.”