01/10/2017 05:34 EST

Indian Police Accused Of Sexually Assaulting As Many As 36 Women

A lawyer says police are protecting those accused.

Police in India are accused of sexually assaulting as many as 36 women, according to the country's human rights commission.

India's National Human Rights Commission announced on Sunday at least 16 women were victims of sexual or physical assault by state police in the central state of Chhattisgarh. The organization said it still has to conduct interviews with 20 women.

The commission wrote in a statement that the "human rights of the victims have been grossly violated by the security personnel of the government of Chhattisgarh for which the state government is vicariously liable."

"The victims gave the names of the policemen involved in the barbarity but nothing has happened. " —Kishore Narayan

The investigation followed a story published in The Indian Express in November 2015 alleging more than 40 women had been sexually assaulted and had their belongings destroyed.

A 14-year-old girl was grazing her cattle when she was "allegedly blindfolded and gangraped," the newspaper reported. Another victim was "repeatedly dunked in a stream and gangraped."

An official with the state's criminal investigation department said a probe into the allegations could take months, given the remote locations of the complainants.

"The task of tracing the women and bringing them from their villages to the court to record their statements is a daunting task," H.K. Rathore told the Thompson Reuters Foundation News.

A lawyer representing 14 of the victims says police are protecting those accused.

"The victims gave the names of the policemen involved in the barbarity but nothing has happened. They carried a sham investigation and are trying to obfuscate the case," Kishore Narayan told Al Jazeera News.

Security forces patrol a village in Chhattisgarh as an attempt to neutralize attempted attacks by Maoist forces in advance of the 2013 election. (Photo: Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Chhattisgarh is part of a region of India known as the "Red Corridor" for being the centre of ongoing conflict between communist groups and the Indian government.

The region is one of the poorest in the country. Locals have accused law enforcement officials of collectively punishing villagers for any perceived connection to communist rebels, The Washington Post reported.

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