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Indian police chief under fire after suggesting women carry chili powder to prevent rape

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Dec. 20, 2012: Indian people hold placards as they participate in a candlelight vigil at India Gate in New Delhi, India for a woman raped on a bus.AP

A senior law enforcement official in India sparked outrage Thursday after his comments on preventing rape amid widespread protests following the brutal gang rape of a student on a public bus.

Commissioner KP Raghuvanshi, head of police in Thane, suggested women can avoid rape by not traveling at night and by carrying chili powder to throw at potential attackers to defend themselves, according to The Guardian.

Activists condemned the commissioner's remarks as sexist and "idiotic."

"This is just a sexist sort of solution," said Ranjana Rumari, director of the Center for Social Research in Delhi. "They want women to stay home. And how is chili powder going to help against six or seven men?"

Rape has become the subject of national discussion in India since the violent gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a bus in New Delhi. The victim remains in critical condition at the hospital with severe internal injuries, doctors said.

Police said six men raped the woman and savagely beat her and her companion with iron rods on a bus driving around the city -- passing through several police checkpoints -- before stripping them and dumping them on the side of the road Sunday night, the Associated Press reports.

Delhi police chief Neeraj Kumar said four men have been arrested and a search is under way for the other two.

The attack has prompted massive protests across India, as thousands of demonstrators gathered in the streets in front of New Delhi police headquarters, near Parliament, and outside the home of the city's top elected official before police dispersed them with water cannons, according to the Associated Press.

"We want to jolt people awake from the cozy comfort of their cars. We want people to feel the pain of what women go through every day," said Aditi Roy, a Delhi University student.

As protests raged in cities across India, at least two girls were gang-raped, with one of them killed.

Police on Wednesday fished out the body of a 10-year old girl from a canal in Bihar state's Saharsa district. Police superintendent Ajit Kumar Satyarthi said the girl had been gang-raped and killed and her body dumped in the canal. Police were investigating and a breakthrough was expected soon, Satyarthi said.

Elsewhere, a 14 -year old schoolgirl was in critical condition in Banka district of Bihar after she was raped by four men, said Jyoti Kumar, the district education officer.

The men have been identified, but police were yet to make any arrests, Kumar said.

Rapes in India remain drastically underreported, according to the Associated Press. In many cases, families do not report rapes due to the stigma that follows the victim and her family. In other instances, families may decide not to report a rape out of frustration with the long delays in court and harassment at the hands of the police. Police are reluctant to register cases of rape and domestic violence in order to keep down crime figures or to elicit a bribe from the victim.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click for more from The Guardian.