We must listen to rape protests, says Indian minister

A senior Indian government minister said on Tuesday that a new rape outrage showed that "something terrible" was happening to society as he extended an olive branch to demonstrators.

Protests have been taking place across New Delhi since last week when it emerged that a five-year-old girl had been repeatedly raped over the course of nearly two days after being abducted from her home in a working class suburb.

The attack has reignited anger over the shocking levels of sexual violence in India, which flared up in December after the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in the capital.

In an interview with the NDTV network, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said that authorities needed to listen to what the protesters had to say rather than simply confront them.

"We need to take protests on board as part of our democratic commitment. We can't be upset that somebody is protesting... We need to be sensitive to people's anger," said Khurshid, who was previously the country's law minister.

"There's something terrible happening in our society. It needs to be analysed, it needs to be studied, it needs to be uncovered."

Khurshid's comments followed a weekend speech by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in which he called for a collective effort to "root out this sort of depravity from our society".

The five-year-old victim is recovering in a hospital after undergoing surgery for severe internal injuries suffered during her ordeal.

Two men have been arrested on suspicion of rape and kidnap.