By GARDINER HARRIS
NEW DELHI – Hundreds of demonstrators besieged New Delhi’s police headquarters on Saturday to protest the kidnapping, rape and torture of a 5-year-old girl last week.
The injured girl was moved Friday evening to New Delhi’s finest public hospital on a gurney covered with stuffed toys, and by Saturday she was alert and in stable condition, according to doctors there. She was being given fluids and intravenous antibiotics to fight a blood infection, the doctors said, and further operations will have to wait until the infection has abated.
Meanwhile, the police arrested a 22-year-old garment worker early Saturday morning in Bihar, said Rajan Bhagat, a Delhi police spokesman. The police identified the suspect as Manoj, who, like many Indians, uses only one name. He had recently married and was tracked down with the help of cellphone records in the town where his in-laws live, according to Indian news reports.
The suspect had an apartment in New Delhi in the same building as the girl, whom he is accused of abducting, raping and torturing last Sunday night. The Times of India reported that he told the police he fled his apartment shortly thereafter because he believed that the girl had died. The girl’s parents discovered her on Wednesday in the man’s apartment.
“This is the first time I have seen such barbarism,” R. K. Bansal, medical superintendent of Swami Dayanand Hospital, said Friday in a televised interview. “There were injuries on her lips, cheeks, arms and anus area. Her neck had bruise marks suggesting that attempts were made to strangle her.”
He said a bottle almost eight inches long and pieces of candle had been inserted “into her private parts.”
In December, a woman was gang-raped and tortured and her companion beaten in a case that shocked the nation and led to weeks of spontaneous protests by Indians demanding better security for women. That case led to changes in the country’s rape laws, but horrific sexual assaults continue to be reported around India with regularity. Whether women are less safe in India than in other emerging countries is uncertain, but rape and police competence have become burning political issues.
On Saturday, demonstrators sought to reawaken the outrage that convulsed India in December, but the day’s protests were far smaller and seemed less spontaneous.
Anger at the authorities began to build after the parents of the 5-year-old said that the police had failed to take their complaint seriously, failed to carry out an adequate search and then offered them 2,000 rupees – about $37 – if they would keep quiet about the case. Then on Friday, television news channels showed a large mustachioed police officer slapping a small female protester in the face.
The government’s concerns about the case ratcheted up so quickly on Friday night that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed regrets about the episode. And on Saturday, the president of the Indian National Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi – whose house was also the site of protests on Saturday – released a statement condemning the rape and saying that “action and not words are required to ensure that such incidents never happen again.”
Two police officers, including the lead investigator on the case and the one seen slapping the protester, were suspended. The lead investigator is being investigated after being accused of trying to bribe the child’s family to remain silent, said Mr. Bhagat, the police spokesman.
The quick arrest of the suspect may do little to calm the anger surrounding the case since fairly quick police work also led to the arrests of five suspects in the December rape case. Such rapid resolutions are not the norm in India, where highly politicized police forces and a backlogged and inefficient judiciary often mean that cases remain unresolved for years.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.