MUMBAI  - A leading rights group accused the Indian police on Monday of denying and disregarding the rights of women, highlighting the recent case of a pregnant prostitute who says she was beaten by an officer.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the government to overhaul its response to such gender-based violence, ahead of an activists’ protest in western Maharashtra state against the police’s alleged treatment of two women.

“The state’s response to women who experience violence is often characterised by delay, denial, discrimination, and disregard for women’s dignity,” said Aruna Kashyap, HRW Asia researcher on women’s rights. “The system needs an urgent, substantial overhaul and officials who fail to carry out their duty or engage in discrimination against those who experience violence should face consequences.” The statement from the rights group detailed the case of two sex workers, one of whom was pregnant, who were allegedly beaten by police before their arrest last month in the city of Satara in Maharashtra. “When I fell on the floor and tried holding his leg begging him to stop because I was pregnant, he pushed me away and kicked me,” the woman, Anu Mokal, told HRW.

She said that although police took her to the local hospital to see a doctor, they refused to allow her the prescribed medication, and she miscarried a few days after her release from custody.

A third woman, teacher Soni Sori from central Chhattisgarh state, alleges the police sexually assaulted and tortured her while she was in custody after her arrest last year, accused of being a sympathiser of Maoist rebels. Her lawyers say police interfered in her medical examination and denied her appropriate treatment, according to HRW.

In the three women’s cases, the group said there was no evidence of criminal investigations being launched despite their complaints.

Kashyap told AFP that around 500 activists from across India had gathered in Satara for Monday’s protest.

The New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights said in November last year that more than 14,000 people died in custody in India between 2001 and 2010, most of them from being tortured.