New Delhi's police chief has demanded the death penalty for convicted rapists amid growing public outrage over the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a school bus in the city.
The physiotherapy student and her male companion were brutally beaten and thrown off the vehicle in the assault on Sunday, which has provoked street protests and widespread anger over the treatment of women in India.
"We will seek the most severe punishment of life imprisonment for the culprits and we will send a proposal to the government for the death sentence for rapists," Neeraj Kumar, New Delhi police commissioner, told reporters.
Rape currently carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison, while the death sentence is restricted to rare cases of murder and "waging war against the country".
Kumar said the suspects took the off-duty school bus for a "joy-ride" and offered to take the student and her companion, who had just watched a movie, home for a regular fare on Sunday evening.
"They began molesting the girl and her companion bravely fought back trying to save her but these men attacked him with an iron rod," he said.
"The victim was dragged to the rear of the bus and brutally beaten and raped."
The female victim, who has been on ventilator support, has severe injuries and is battling for her life in intensive care.
Her companion, a 28-year-old software engineer, was also being treated in hospital for multiple injuries.
Four of the six alleged attackers, including the bus driver, have been arrested and a hunt has been launched for two other suspect involved in the assault.
The gruesome nature of the incident has shocked the conscious of a nation where one women is raped every 20 minutes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, which reported 24,206 rapes in 2011 - an almost 10 per cent rise over the previous year.
Protesters blocked traffic at the intersection in the south of the city where the couple boarded the bus, while others demonstrated outside a nearby police station.
"No more rapes or harassment," shouted protesters. New Delhi is often referred to as India's "rape capital".
The case triggered an emergency debate in parliament and made the front-pages of all newspapers, with Mail Today heading reading "Savagery shames city".
Some lawmakers including Sushma Swaraj, leader of the main opposition BJP party, also called for rapists to be hanged.
Molestation of women is a serious problem in many Indian cities, with rights campaigners complaining that commonly used term "eve-teasing" is a dangerous euphemism that hides a culture of abusive sexual behaviour.
"Eve-teasing" is a euphemism for public sexual harassment or molestation of women by men, with the word "Eve" in reference to the biblical Eve.
It implies that the woman is in some way responsible for the behaviour of the perpetrators of this act.
The sexual aggression ranges from sexually suggestive remarks, brushing in public places and catcalls to outright groping.
Rape cases in India more than doubled between 1990 and 2008, according to official data.