India - the G20's worst place to be a woman: How Bollywood is speaking out over the country's rape crisis

Actress Nandita Das campaigns for rape victims. Credit: ITV

John Irvine travelled to India for On Assignment, which airs Wednesday at 10.35pm on ITV

Everyone we spoke to agreed: India is a dangerous place to be a woman.

Among the world's top 20 economies, India is ranked the worst in which to be a female.

It's one notch below Saudi Arabia, a country light years from having a woman leader.

India was the second nation in the world to have one of those.

So why, almost 50 years after Indira Gandhi was first elected, are things so bad for what Mahatma Gandhi called "the better half of humanity" in India?

Bollywood superstar Anupam Kher often plays the respected voice of reason in his films.

A keen observer of Indian society, he told us the root of the problem is cultural.

He said that typically in Indian families there is a feeling of disappointment when a girl is born.

Anupam Kher Credit: ITV

He said that from the very outset girls and boys are taught to be inferior and superior respectively.

The monstrous gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a Delhi bus 18 months ago shocked India and the world.

She was making her way home from the cinema after watching The Life of Pi when she was attacked.

Five men and a juvenile set upon her on a bus. She was raped and mortally wounded. They stopped and threw her off the bus and then tried to reverse over her.

John Irvine and cameraman Sean Swan film at the spot where the Indian bus rape victim was thrown from the vehicle. Credit: Roohi Hasan

Her boyfriend, himself badly injured during the assault, managed to drag her out of the way just in time. The girl died from her injuries several days later.

While we were in Delhi her parents marked what would have been her 26th birthday with a memorial ceremony.

The parents are campaigners now, fighting for the rights of women.

The girl's father told me that the nation should hang its head in shame over the violence and abuse suffered by women.

A human rights lawyer told us that for every woman who reports a rape to the authorities, she believes there are many more who do not.

Traditionally many victims have chosen not to go to the police because the authorities just didn't want to know.

A woman who reported a recent rape claim said she had been urged by police officers to drop charges for the sake of her children, who might be targeted by the defendants.

In India's most cosmopolitan city Mumbai, 85% of women report feeling unsafe on public transport.

Mumbai is the home of Bollywood, the huge Indian film industry which has taken flak for its portrayal of women.

Actress Nandita Das is a household name in India. Credit: ITV

Actress Nandita Das is a household name in India.

Her film roles include that of a rape victim - a traumatic performance that compelled her to campaign on behalf of those who suffer for real.

She said the Delhi bus rape and murder had brought a lot of attention to the issue.

In the aftermath of that attack the laws were beefed up, but convictions remain worryingly rare.

More than 600 alleged rapes were reported in Delhi in 2012. By the end of that year only one had resulted in conviction.

The men who carried out the bus rape were convicted and four are awaiting execution.

But that case was fast-tracked. Most cases are not and the backlog in the system is chronic.

Women attend a self defence class in Mumbai. Credit: Roohi Hasan

At a self-defence class we met young women learning martial arts to defend themselves.

"Fight hard," yelled their instructor, "you'll be shown no mercy."

  • On Assignment airs Wednesday at 10.35pm on ITV