A five-year-old Indian girl was battling for her life on Friday after being kidnapped and brutally raped in the latest incident of sexual violence which has triggered nationwide protests.
The girl was attacked inside a locked room over a 48-hour period, police said, after being abducted as she played outside on Monday in a lower-middle class area of the capital New Delhi.
"We initially registered a case of kidnapping. We have now launched a preliminary inquiry into rape and attempted murder," Rajan Bhagat told AFP, adding a hunt was on to catch a family neighbour who is the main accused.
The child was admitted to the intensive care unit of a city hospital on Wednesday and doctors said her condition was "critical" as news channels provided wall-to-wall coverage.
"The girl was traumatised when she was brought to us. There were injuries to her lips, cheeks and chest wall. There were bruises on her neck," R.N. Bansal, medical superintendent of a local government hospital, told NDTV news channel.
Doctors said the girl's genital area had been mutilated and that objects had been inserted inside her, causing serious internal injuries and infection.
"We are keeping her under constant observation. The next few hours are going to be very critical," Bansal said.
She was found after a passerby heard her crying and alerted the police.
The incident comes just months after India was shaken by the horrific gang-rape of a student in Delhi on a bus last year that triggered countrywide demonstrations and debate over the status of women and girls and their safety.
The woman succumbed to her injuries 13 days after the assault in which her attackers drove an iron rod inside her, damaging her internal organs.
The parents of the five-year-old girl, who was later moved to a better-equipped government hospital in the city, accused the police of being insensitive in their investigation.
"They were reluctant to register our complaint (that she was missing) when we approached them the first time. Then the police asked us to be content with the fact she was at least found alive," the father of the girl said.
Scores of protesters gathered outside the hospital Friday where the child was admitted and shouted abuse at police for failing to investigate her disappearance properly.
Women's rights activists condemned the incident, saying the injuries inflicted on the girl were shocking.
"This incident shows what kind of brutes do we have in society. Society is also responsible for this. It has become full of perverts," said Ranjana Kumari of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research.