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In India this past Sunday night, a crime occurred that has touched off outrage and soul searching. A young woman was gang-raped in the capital, New Delhi. As NPR's Julie McCarthy reports, the assault took place on a moving bus and left the woman in critical condition. First, a warning: this story contains disturbing details.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The 23-year-old victim lies here at the Safdurjung Hospital here in Central Delhi, her life hanging in the balance. Doctors say she sustained internal injuries to her intestines and that she seemed to have been beaten with a blunt object. The brazen attack Sunday night was a worrying sign for Delhi that has gained a reputation as the rape capital of the country. The young woman, a physiotherapist, and a male friend were heading home from a movie theater when they boarded the fateful bus - a private bus driven by six men reported to be on drunken joy ride through Delhi. Media reports say that the men taunted the young woman for being out at night, and when her friend intervened they set upon him with an iron rod. When the woman fought back, authorities said the men decided she should be taught a lesson. She was reportedly passed to the front of bus where at least four men took turns raping her. In Parliament, politicians across the spectrum rose to condemn the crime. Angry opposition leaders asked the government to explain what it's doing to protect women amid declining public confidence in public safety. Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj said that rapists deserved the death penalty.

SUSHMA SWARAJ: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: People say that capital punishment should be done away with, she said. But you tell me: This young woman is now struggling between life and death. And if she survives, she'll be like the walking dead. Shouldn't her assailants be hanged, she asks? But Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research says there are 40,000 cases of rape pending in India.

RANJANA KUMARI: Will you hang all 40,000 people?

MCCARTHY: Kumari says the current laws are enough.

KUMARI: Those laws provide enough room for punishing the people from seven years to ten years to whole life in jail.

MCCARTHY: There were more than 24,000 cases of rape reported in India last year, over 500 in Delhi alone. Kumari says a prevailing paternalistic attitude toward women is at the heart of the country's sexual violence.

KUMARI: We need to have every man and boy realize that, you know, this is totally wrong. It's a value system that needs to be created in our society.

MCCARTHY: Delhi resident Dr. Sanjiv Chhiber is angered at the state of the city that leads the nation in violent sexual crime.

DR. SANJIV CHHIBER: And I have a daughter. I'm the father of a single daughter. And I'm scared.

MCCARTHY: Chhiber came to raise his voice before the locked gates of the police station where four of the six accused are reportedly being held.

CHHIBER: People here are not men. For them, they hide their women in some obscure village of theirs, they see a decent woman hanging around, they rape her. And all the politicians and all the policemen, they all are culpable.

MCCARTHY: Attuned to what has become a political firestorm, Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the governing alliance, is reported to have visited the young victim at her hospital tonight. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.

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