NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Police arrested a second man on Monday in connection with the rape and torture of a five-year-old girl in New Delhi, but that was not enough to halt protests at perceived police incompetence and corruption.
Neighbours say the child was abducted on Monday last week in an alley outside her home in a cramped lower middle-class neighbourhood and kept captive by two men in the basement of the same building. They say they found her two days later after hearing her cries.
A video showing a senior police officer slapping a young woman protester (link.reuters.com/veq57t) has fuelled outrage, along with an allegation by the family that the officers offered them a 2,000-rupee bribe to hush up the case - delaying the search for the girl by several hours.
In his first news conference about the rape, Delhi police chief Neeraj Kumar resisted growing demands for his resignation. He said he had suspended the policeman caught on camera, along with two senior officers at the police station in question.
He also offered to take the entire staff of the police station to the hospital for an ID parade in relation to the bribe allegations.
He defended his record, saying rape was hard to prevent because it was commonly committed by family members.
“Is it humanly possible for a policeman to prevent a case like this in which a neighbour lures a girl who is playing to his room and commits a crime?” he said. “Is it possible to prevent it?”
The five-year-old girl’s name has not been revealed, but media have nicknamed her “Gudiya”, or doll. She has undergone surgery and was in stable condition on Monday, a doctor at the hospital where she is being treated told reporters.
The public anger echoes the response to the gang rape of a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist on a bus on December 16. She later died of her injuries. That attack brought thousands on to the streets in protest and put the issue of gender violence firmly on the national political agenda a year before elections.
Protests, now in their fourth day, have been smaller this time and spearheaded by the populist Aam Aadmi Party. Demonstrators, who scaled barricades near parliament on Monday, say they are angry authorities failed to prevent the attack.
“They are helping the culprits to get away with the crime. A simple, speedy investigation would have found her quickly,” said Pratap Samal, a socialist politician protesting outside Delhi police headquarters.
A man was arrested on Saturday for the attack on the five-year-old and is due to appear in a Delhi court this week. The second suspect, aged 19, was arrested at 1 a.m. on Monday at a relative’s house in Bihar, police said.
Television images showed police bundling the suspect into a vehicle, his head and face covered with a red scarf.
The Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day after opposition politicians left their seats and challenged the speaker, some demanding discussion of the rape case. Others were protesting against corruption and other issues.
Media reported several other attacks on children over the weekend, including that of a nine-year old girl in Assam, who had her throat slit after being gang-raped, TV channels said.
Brutal sex crimes are common in India, which has a population of 1.2 billion. New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures.
One in three rape victims in India are children, according to UNICEF. Child sex abuse was only outlawed last year under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Annie Banerji and Nita Bhalla; Editing by Nick Macfie