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Vachathi Case: Madras HC dismisses appeals of 215 government officials, uphelds convictions in 1992 assault and rape case of 18 women

During a search operation by forest and revenue officials to find Veerappan’s sandalwood allegedly smuggled and hidden by Dalits and Adivasis in Vachathi village Tamil Nadu, several men were assaulted and 18 women were raped and tortured

The Madras High Court upheld the convictions of 215 government officials from the forest, police and revenue departments of Tamil Nadu on 29 September. The decision was pronounced in response to the brutality, rape and looting of village property inflicted against the inhabitants of the Vachathi tribal hamlet in the Dharmapuri district in 1992.

The state of Tamil Nadu was ordered by Justice Velmurugan to compensate the 18 victims with a sum of Rs 10 lakh and provide them with suitable employment. The Court directed that further compensation be provided to the relatives of the three victims who passed away as a result of the horrible event. The State was mandated to recoup 50% of the compensation money from authorities who were found guilty and given prison terms for the rape offence in the case.

The Court expressed that welfare measures and job opportunities must also be extended to the families of the victims as well as necessary steps must be undertaken to improve the quality of lives of the tribals living in the area. Furthermore, Justice Velmurugan sought harsh punishment for the district collector, forest officer, and police superintendent who refused to act despite receiving reports of the atrocities.

He had reserved the order on the appeals filed by 126 forest employees, 84 police officers and 5 revenue officials in February of this year. He also went to the Vachathi village to conduct a local inspection and “understand the topography of the area.”

The officials are convicted of assaulting several men and raping 18 women during a search operation to find Veerappan’s sandalwood in Vachathi village Tamil Nadu.

Background of the horrifying incident

The sandalwood belonging to now-deceased dacoit Veerappan was reportedly smuggled and hidden by Dalits and Adivasis in the village of Vachathi in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district, according to officials. Forest and revenue personnel entered the village to conduct a “search operation” to find the expensive item in June 1992. The authorities also wanted more details regarding the dacoit’s whereabouts.

They carried out raids on the village, harassed women, destroyed village assets and killed livestock. Several males were beaten up while 18 women were raped and tortured. The majority of the women were left in their homes during the searches while the men fled to neighbouring hills, where they hid for months. More than 100 women and children were detained and spent months in prison on fraudulent charges.

On 22 August 1992, the rape victims filed a complaint at the Harur police station. However, the officials denied any wrongdoing. The Revenue Divisional Officer was asked to visit Vachathi and carry out an investigation after submitting an “objective and independent” report of the occurrence. The rape instance, per the probe “cannot be believed” and the “villagers themselves damaged their houses in order to place the blame on the forest and police officials,” the report claimed.

Almost three years after the tragedy, the Madras High Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate following many efforts by civil society activists. The court initially dismissed a Public Interest Litigation on the grounds that officials from the government would not have engaged in such behaviour and that the issue was not appropriate for consideration as a PIL.

In its inquiry, the CBI confirmed that the police and officials had behaved cruelly, and assaulted men, women, and children along with tearing down huts. Only 215 of the 269 accused were still alive when the designated trial court handed down sentences in June 2011, nearly 20 years after the incident.

Amongst them were 126 forest employees, 84 police officers, 5 tax agents and 4 Indian Forest Service (IFS) officers. The other accused passed away while the probe was proceeding. The sentences for the multiple offences for which they were adjudged guilty ranged from one year to ten years in prison.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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