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New Delhi: Angry crowds demonstrated in India’s capital on Saturday after a five-year-old girl was allegedly raped, tortured and kept in captivity for 40 hours, reviving memories of last December’s brutal assault on a woman that shook the country.

Police arrested a man they accuse of the attack from the eastern state of Bihar, and brought him back to New Delhi for interrogation. Doctors say the girl suffered severe injuries and bruising, including to her neck and genitalia.

Protests that began on Friday grew more intense after video footage showed a policeman slapping a woman protester, and following reports investigators offered the victim’s family 2,000 not to file a case.

The assault on the girl revived memories of the gang rape by five adult men and a teenaged boy of a 23-year-old student on a bus on 16 December in New Delhi.

That woman succumbed to the injuries in a Singapore hospital. The case caused an outpouring of anger in Delhi. While statistically, India does not have the world’s highest incidence of rape, the frequency and apparent increase in brutal crimes has become a major political issue in the nation of 1.2 billion a year before elections.

On Saturday, about 1,000 people gathered to demonstrate outside the police headquarters in New Delhi, where several people tried to break through metal barricades. Smaller protests erupted outside the state-run hospital where the girl was being treated, the home of ruling Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi, and the residence of the country’s interior minister.

The girl was “conscious and alert" and her condition stable, but her injuries are infected and so severe she may need corrective surgery, an official of the state-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) hospital told reporters.

Police identified the accused as a 22-year-old called Manoj, arrested late on Friday in Bihar where he had fled after leaving the girl for dead in an apartment in the same Delhi building the family lives in.

The accused was a temporary worker in garment factories and lived with his father, a juice seller, police said. TV news channels reported that some people tried to attack the man and others threw shoes at him as police led him through Patna airport in Bihar state to board a plane back to New Delhi.

Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat declined to comment on reports that the girl’s family had been offered money not to file a case, adding he would only do so after an investigation.

Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the government was conducting an inquiry into allegations of police negligence.

Critics say tougher laws not enough

The girl, whose parents work as labourers and live in a slum in the outskirts of Delhi, went missing from home on 15 April, according to Manish Sisodia, chief spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party which organized Friday’s protest.

Local media said she was found by neighbours who heard her crying two days later.

B.N. Bansal, a doctor from the Swami Dayanand Hospital, where the girl was initially admitted for treatment, said on Friday that the young victim had undergone an operation after she was brought in with extreme injuries.

“We found candles and an oil bottle from inside the child when we operated upon her," Bansal told reporters. “The next 48 hours will be crucial for her."

President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday called for urgent introspection to identify causes behind repeated failure of society to ensure security of women and children.

“I am shocked and deeply anguished at the latest incident of sexual assault and rape of a five-year-old child in Delhi. I join her family in praying for a speedy recovery and call upon concerned authorities to ensure the best possible medical attention for her," Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesperson Venu Rajamony quoted the President as saying.

President Mukherjee said, “As a society, we must introspect at the erosion of values and our repeated failure to ensure the security of our women and children."

He asked people to pledge all “energy and effort into ensuring that such aberrations which stain our moral fibre and standing as a society is prevented".

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office said in a statement that he was deeply disturbed by the latest incident. In December his administration had faced criticism for failing to respond quickly to the horrific attack on the physiotherapy student.

The unprecedented protests by thousands of people across India eventually forced Singh’s government to pass tougher laws to fight gender crimes in March.

But activists on Friday said the laws were not enough to deter sex offenders in India’s largely patriarchal societies.

“If you thought just bringing in a new law will stop crimes, your are wrong. They will reduce, but won’t stop. You need community policing to stop these crimes," activist Kiran Bedi told an Indian TV channel.

It was the second case of alleged rape in 48 hours to trigger protests and police brutality, after hundreds of people fought police in the city of Aligarh 135km from Delhi on Thursday. One policeman was filmed hitting an old woman hard with a club in the protest. Reuters

PTI also contributed to this story.

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