Indians have reacted with anger and disgust over video footage of a young woman being sexually assaulted by a laughing mob of more than a dozen men in a busy street outside a bar in north-east India.

Not only did no one intervene for up to 45 minutes during the attack, but an off-duty TV journalist filmed the incident on his phone and called a cameraman to join him. The footage was then broadcast on news channels, prompting a debate on women's safety in India and whether journalists have a duty to help in such situations.

In an interview with Indian media, the victim asked why the journalists did not help her. "They were only taking pictures. Why could they not help me?"

Local police have been condemned over their initial indifference towards the attack, which took place last Monday night just a few minutes from the nearest police station in Guwahati, Assam.

Frustrated at police inaction in the days following the assault, local residents put up "Wanted" posters of the men caught on camera and circulated the images on social networking sites.

The attack has highlighted the dangers of being a woman in the world's biggest democracy. Writing in the Mail Today on Sunday, the novelist Palash Krishna Mehrotra said: "This ghastly episode has brought back in focus an old issue: our primitive attitudes towards women."

A global poll last month voted India the worst G20 country for women, behind even Saudi Arabia.

Seven men have been arrested since Assam's chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, on Saturday ordered detectives to arrest the culprits within 48 hours. A police official had also been suspended, according to Apurba Jabon Barua, a senior superintendent at Guwahati police force.

Over the weekend a delegation from the National Commission for Women arrived in the city to support the victim. The NCW's Alka Lamba told reporters the teenager had suffered "animal-like treatment" and claimed that there were cigarette burns all over her body.

The victim told local media that the attack went on for "about 45 minutes" and that she would have been raped had the police not eventually come to her aid.

NewsLive channel, whose journalists filmed the attack, defended its staff for not intervening. "Some [media] questioned me as to why my reporter and camera person shot the incident and didn't prevent the mob from molesting the girl," tweeted its editor-in-chief, Atanu Bhuyan. "But I'm backing my team since the mob would have attacked them, prevented them from shooting, that would have only destroyed all evidence."

Girija Vyas, an MP and a former president of the NCW, said: "No amount of criticism is enough for this incident … Is this the 21st century when we talk about equality? We can have a woman sitting at the post of the President of the country but the average woman on the street is not safe." © Guardian News and Media 2012