NEW DELHI Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged Thursday to take action to protect the nation's women while the young victim of a gang rape on a New Delhi bus was flown to Singapore for treatment of severe internal injuries.
The Dec. 16 rape and brutal beating of the 23-year-old student triggered widespread protests, including a march on Thursday, demanding a government crackdown on the daily harassment Indian women face, ranging from groping to severe violence. Some protesters have called for the death penalty or castration for rapists, who under current laws face a maximum punishment of life in prison.
Rape victims rarely press charges because of social stigma and fear they will be accused of inviting the attack. Many women say they structure their lives around protecting themselves and their daughters from attack.
Singh's government set up two committees in response to the protests. One, looking into speeding up sexual assault trials, has already received 6,100 email suggestions. The second will examine what lapses might have contributed to the rape -- which took place on a moving bus that passed through police checkpoints -- and suggest measures to improve women's safety.
"Let me state categorically that the issue of safety and security of women is of the highest concern to our government," Singh said at a development meeting. He urged officials in India's states to pay special attention to the problem.
"There can be no meaningful development without the active participation of half the population, and this participation simply cannot take place if their security and safety is not assured," he said.
The rape victim arrived in Singapore on an air ambulance Thursday and was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Mount Elizabeth hospital, renowned for multi-organ transplant facilities.
On Thursday night she remained in "extremely critical condition" as a team of specialists worked to stabilize her, Dr. Kelvin Loh, the hospital's chief executive officer, said in a statement. Before arriving in Singapore, she had already undergone three abdominal surgeries and suffered cardiac arrest, he said.
India's Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said in a statement that the government, which is funding and overseeing the victim's treatment, had decided to send her abroad on the recommendation of her doctors.
"Despite the best efforts of our doctors, the victim continues to be critical and her fluctuating health remains a big cause of concern to all of us," he said.
Her family was also being sent to Singapore to be with her during her treatment, which could last weeks, he said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters demanding safer public transportation for women and the resignation of Delhi's police commissioner tried to march to the major India Gate traffic circle in central Delhi before being stopped by police in riot gear manning barricades. Protesters carried signs reading, "Immediately end rape culture in India" and "Zero tolerance of violence against women."
Protests have shut down the center of the capital for days since the rape. Police quashed some of the demonstrations with tear gas, water cannons and baton charges.
One police officer died Tuesday after collapsing during a weekend protest. Police said an autopsy showed the officer had a heart attack that could have been caused by injuries suffered during violence at the protest. An Associated Press journalist at the scene said the officer was running toward the protesters with a group of police when he collapsed on the ground and began frothing at the mouth and shaking. Two protesters rushed to the officer to try to help him. Police charged eight people with murder in the death of the policeman.
Police said the rape victim was traveling on the evening of Dec. 16 with a male friend on a bus when they were attacked by six men who gang-raped her and beat the couple with iron rods before stripping them and dumping them on a road. All six suspects in the case have been arrested, police said.
Also Thursday, Ratanjit Singh, a junior minister in the home ministry, said the government would create a database of convicted rapists and publish it, along with their photos, on the ministry website to shame them, according to the Press Trust of India.