The woman, a physiotherapy student, was last night fighting for her life in hospital. She had been travelling home from watching a film at a shopping mall in the south of Delhi when she and a male friend were attacked by a group of drunk men on a largely empty bus.
Police say six men attacked the couple and took turns to rape the woman as the bus toured the city's streets on Sunday. Tinted windows and curtains kept them hidden and prolonged the woman's suffering as the rapists attacked her and her friend with an iron bar before throwing them out of the bus unconscious on a city flyover.
Television news channels quoted police sources saying the perpetrators had abused the woman for being out at night with a man and said they would "teach her a lesson." Her condition was described as critical amid reports that she is on a ventilator and that her intestines were so severely ruptured surgeons had removed them to prevent gangrene.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets to demonstrate outside the Indian parliament, the Delhi chief minister's office and at the police headquarters to demand urgent action to protect women in the "rape capital of India."
Campaigners claim there is an ambivalent attitude to sexual violence against women in India and that assaults are often trivialised. Many were afraid to report assaults because lack of sympathy among police officers who instinctively believe the woman "deserved" the assault and the fact that few offenders are convicted.
There were calls for the perpetrators to be hung while some commentators said convicted rapists should undergo chemical castration.
Sonia Gandhi, India's most powerful political leader, visited the woman in hospital and called for urgent measures to protect women, calling the latest incident a "matter of shame".
There was an urgent need to take "whatever steps are necessary to undertake community action, to strengthen law and order, and to step up vigilance to protect women," she added.
Despite having two million people fewer than Mumbai, Delhi records considerably more rapes. Last year there were 221 rapes in Mumbai while Delhi suffered 572. This year the number of rapes in Delhi has increased to 635. Last weekend a six year old girl was raped by a neighbour in central Delhi while a 24-year-old woman was raped by a neighbour in the east of the city.
Police said four men had been arrested over the latest gang-rape as the city's chief minister and the national government's home minister promised urgent moves to fast-track trials of rape cases and to step up the number of police street patrols. Police said they would crack down on buses with curtains and tinted windows while detectors launched a search for two other men believed to have been involved in the attack who are thought to have fled to other states.
Ratna Kapur, a professor of law in Delhi, said the high levels of rape in the capital reflected a crisis of Indian masculinity as more women take higher paid jobs in former male strongholds. In an article in The Hindu, she said India's preference for sons bred a sense of male privilege and entitlement and "erodes the possibility of respect for women."
Dean Nelson Telegraph.co.uk