The Indian government’s human rights watchdog has accused police of raping and beating at least 16 women from tribal communities in Chhattisgarh, a central state racked by a 50-year Maoist insurgency.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said there were 20 alleged attacks still to be investigated, but that in 16 cases the “human rights of the victims have been grossly violated by the security personnel”.
It was investigating a report published in the Indian Express that police had committed abuses against women in several villages in Bijapur district during an operation against rebels in October 2015.
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), an advocacy group whose members met the alleged victims, told the newspaper police had committed “violence on a mass scale”.
“Around 40 women have said that they were forced to strip, sexually harassed and assaulted,” one WSS member said. They allegedly included a 14-year-old girl who was grazing cattle when she was said to have been raped by several officers.
The NHRC said it believed eight women had been raped, six sexually abused and two physically assaulted. It asked the Chhattisgarh government to show why the women should not be paid compensation of up to 300,000 rupees (£3,600).
The investigation had turned up more complaints of sexual violence committed by security personnel in Bijapur and other districts in the state, the watchdog added.
Chhattisgarh, around 1,000 miles from Delhi, is part of a “red corridor” stretching from Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal where thousands of armed communist fighters have waged a 50-year rebellion against the government.
Thousands of civilians, mostly members of poor and remote tribes, have been killed in the fighting, which the Maoists claim is over jobs and rights for farmers and landless labourers.
Indian security forces are regularly accused of committing extrajudicial killings, arson and rape in the affected regions. The Maoists have also been implicated in civilian deaths, including by sabotaging a crowded passenger train in West Bengal that crashed and killed 100 passengers.
Kishore Narayan, who represents 14 of the victims the NHRC has identified, told Agence France-Presse that the human rights agency had backed its claims and accused the police of deliberately shielding the culprits.
“The victims gave the names of the policemen involved in the barbarity, but nothing has happened. They carried out a sham investigation and are trying to obfuscate the case,” Narayan said.
He said they had filed a petition in the Chhattisgarh high court demanding an investigation by a special police team from outside the state.