Madras HC upholds conviction of 217 officials in Vachathi atrocities | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Madras HC upholds conviction of 217 officials in Vachathi atrocities

By, Chennai
Sep 30, 2023 09:06 AM IST

Of the 269 convicts, 217 surviving officials had appealed in the high court against their punishment (ranging from one to 10 years of imprisonment), awarded by a trial court in 2011.

The Madras high court on Friday upheld the conviction and sentencing of more than 200 government officials for atrocities against the entire tribal village of Vachathi by beating up the men, raping 18 women, and killing their livestock, three decades ago.

The court criticised the then All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government led by late chief minister J Jayalalithaa for not taking the crime seriously and of colluding with the real smuggler. (PTI)
The court criticised the then All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government led by late chief minister J Jayalalithaa for not taking the crime seriously and of colluding with the real smuggler. (PTI)

On the evening of June 20,1992, officials from the departments of forest, police and revenue entered Vachathi village near Chitheri hills in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district on suspicion that the villagers were smuggling sandalwood and aiding bandit Veerappan. The state violence against the villagers continued for three more days.

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Of the 269 convicts, 217 surviving officials had appealed in the high court against their punishment (ranging from one to 10 years of imprisonment), awarded by a trial court in 2011.

“There are no merits in these appeals and the same are liable to be dismissed,” justice P Velmurugan of Madras high court said in his 74-page order on Friday. The justice had visited the village earlier in March. The court found the victims’ accounts “cogent and consistent” and said that the “appellants have committed the charged offences”. The appeals of those who died during the trial were dismissed as abated and the surviving convicts now have to serve their remaining sentence as announced by the trial court.

The victims had to wait for 19 years for a lower court to convict 269 government officials and for another 12 years for Friday’s verdict from the high court. “I still cannot forget what happened to me all those years ago. And how much I’ve lost since that day,” said one of the rape survivors. “We have gone to so many courts, so many people for justice. Till today’s judgment, we have been living in fear.”

The court criticised the then All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government led by late chief minister J Jayalalithaa for not taking the crime seriously and for colluding with the real smugglers. No complaint was registered for three years after the crime. It was the high court which ordered a CBI probe in 1995 in the case. The CBI filed a charge sheet against all 269 government officials and trial began, ten years later, in 2005.

“Unfortunately the then government failed to protect the tribal women and it only safeguarded the erred officials and also failed to find out the real sandalwood smugglers,” the justice said. “In order to safeguard the actual smugglers and the big-shots, the revenue officials, police officials and also the forest officials, with the help of the then government, played a big stage drama, in which the innocent tribal women got affected much and the pain and difficulties faced by them have to be compensated in terms of money and jobs.”

The court directed the incumbent Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)- government to take “stringent action” against the district collector, superintendent of police (SP) and forest officers who were posted in Dharmapuri during the crime for not taking action against smugglers, but harassing and assaulting the villagers instead. The present state government has been asked to report to the court on the welfare measures taken to improve the livelihood and standard of living of the Vachathi villagers.

The court has directed the state government to pay 10 lakh immediately to each of the victims directly to their accounts, as compensation. If the victim is not alive, the compensation should go to the family. 50% of the amount should be contributed by the convicted who have been charged of raping 18 women and the government has also been asked to provide suitable jobs to the rape survivors.

The ordeal narrated by the victims state that between 4pm and 7pm on June 20,1992, hundreds of officials entered the village to conduct a mass raid. The villagers, all of them belonging to the Schedule Tribe, were in their houses and some of them were in the field grazing cattle. Forest officials dragged them out from their houses and fields to gather them under a Banyan tree and the uniformed officers beat the villagers. They picked 18 women and took them to a nearby lake where they were raped by the officials. The 18 women were then taken to a forest range office, where they were forcefully kept overnight to give their thumb impression and signatures agreeing to that they smuggled sandalwood. The villagers were also charged with attacking officials and preventing them from discharging their duties. They were imprisoned for more than a month before they were let out on bail.

“Even though the accused are public servants, the acts committed by the appellants are not the official duty and they all committed all types of unlawful and illegal acts towards the innocent villagers of Vachathi Village,” the court concluded.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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