It is almost every Indian woman's nightmare, lived daily when in public — a stream of obscene comments, unwanted hands being placed on them and then being blamed for causing the sexual violence.

The gang-rape and beating of a 23-year-old student by six men on a bus in New Delhi may have sparked days of protests and demands for authorities to take tougher action, but for women in India it is just an extreme example of what they have to live with.

Many in India's capital and across the country say they are constantly on guard, fearing everything from the routine gropings they suffer on public buses to far more violent assaults. Some say they have structured their entire lives around protecting themselves and their children.