NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's opposition criticized the government on Monday for failing to deal swiftly and harshly enough with sex offenders, after a gang rape in Mumbai revived a national debate over women's safety in a society undergoing rapid social change.
A 22-year-old photojournalist was raped on Thursday in Mumbai while on an assignment with a male colleague. Her colleague was tied up with a belt and beaten.
The crime has parallels with the gang-rape of a trainee-physiotherapist on a moving bus in Delhi in December. Both crimes were against young professionals in a society where many men believe women should remain in the home.
The attack in Mumbai, widely considered to be India's safest city for women, has raised concerns that harsher penalties alone are not deterring sexual offenders.
Speaking in parliament, Sushma Swaraj, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), called for a time limit for prosecuting the Mumbai attackers, complaining that the trial of the Delhi gang-rape had yet to reach a verdict.
"We are not able to hang these beasts and we are not able to punish them quickly," Swaraj said. "That's why these incidents are happening."
The criticism comes at a time when the Congress-led coalition government is under fire over a range of issues that have angered the growing urban and professional middle-class, a target constituency for BJP campaigners.
With an election due by May, the government faces particular criticism over an economic downturn, a string of corruption scandals and slow progress on business reforms.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde promised the Mumbai perpetrators would be tried in a fast-track court.
Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh said data showed a rise in rapes in Mumbai because police were urging women to report attacks, not because the city was becoming less safe.
"After this case in Delhi, we have ... created the awareness that even a simple minor incident involving a woman, a crime against (a) woman, must be reported to the police," he said.
Some members of the right-wing Shiv Sena party, which leads the coalition that controls Mumbai's municipal body, last week blamed city crime on the influx of migrants from other states.
However, five men arrested over the Mumbai attack were all local to the city, police said on Monday.
The Delhi rape, in which the woman died of her injuries, sparked nationwide protests and a revision of the country's rape laws. Repeat offenders or those whose victims are left in a "vegetative state" now face the death penalty.
The verdicts on the four men accused in that case, which started in February in a fast-track court, are expected within the next three weeks.
Under the new laws, the four men face the death penalty if found guilty. A juvenile suspect, whose verdict is due on August 31, faces three years in juvenile detention.
In another incident, an off-duty police officer was held up and raped while travelling by car between two cities in the eastern state of Jharkhand over the weekend, media reports said.
(Reporting by Shyamantha Asokan and Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Alison Williams)